The Blood Disorder Affecting 1 in 5 Women

Do you experience chronic fatigue, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, headaches, and/or cold hands and feet?

Recently, I started feeling ill daily. I was constantly weak, nauseous, and dizzy. I even noticed a frequent craving for chewing ice and occasional heart palpitations. These symptoms can indicate a variety of issues from minor to serious. I knew I had low blood pressure for years; however, one week I had to miss several classes because I couldn’t walk from my bedroom to my car without collapsing from vertigo. I even blacked out several times after giving blood, an issue I didn’t experience when I gave blood a year earlier. It was time to figure out what was wrong, so I booked an appointment at the campus health center. The doctor diagnosed me with mild anemia. Her recommendation? Eat more throughout the day and drink more water. Such a simple solution to a truly debilitating issue.

Turns out, approximately 20% of women of reproductive age are affected by anemia. In fact, it is America’s most common blood condition.

Anemia is a blood disorder that occurs when your blood lacks an appropriate level of healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin, a primary part of red blood cells that binds oxygen. This condition causes your cells to receive too little oxygen, resulting in symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, pale skin, irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, headache, chest pain, restless legs, cold hands and feet, and pica (the urge to eat unusual, non-nutritive things like ice and stones.) Symptoms may be mild enough to go unnoticed, but become exacerbated as the condition worsens.

Anemia can range from mild to life-threatening, possibly leading to debilitating fatigue, pregnancy complications, and heart problems. There are several different types of anemia, so it’s important to make an appointment with your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms. Anemia can occur due to an inherited gene, developed deficiency, medication, chronic disease, or other condition. Additionally, women are more likely to suffer from anemia due to their regular menstrual bleeding. Pregnancy and breastfeeding can also lower a woman’s iron levels.

Fortunately, the most common forms of anemia, like iron deficiency anemia, can be treated through mindful lifestyle choices. Eating a diet rich in nutrients such as iron, vitamin C, vitamin B-12, and folate can increase iron levels and absorption. Foods that may help lessen the effects of anemia include meat, peanuts, iron-fortified cereal, beans, dark leafy vegetables, broccoli, green peas, peppers, lentils, fruit or fruit juices (citrus, tomatoes, strawberries, melons), and some dairy products. Taking a daily multivitamin can also produce health benefits.

After discovering I had iron-deficiency anemia, I made sure to keep a bag of snacks in my car at all times. I have honey roasted peanuts, which contain folate to produce more red blood cells. To spike my blood pressure, I keep baked Lays and popcorn cakes on hand for a little dose of salt. And for some additional iron and vitamin B-12, I carry teriyaki beef jerky in my car when I’m out and about. Being mindful of my diet and water consumption have improved my health and wellbeing tremendously. My dizziness, fatigue, headaches, and heart issues have noticeably decreased.

If you’re suffering as I did, I truly hope you find relief, too.

If you are experiencing any adverse symptoms, please consult with your doctor for the most accurate diagnosis and treatment methods. Although these tips may help someone suffering from a form of anemia, it’s always important to discuss your options with a medical professional first. Every body is different, so make sure you seek the care that is best suited for you.