Killer cramps, endless bleeding, stashing emergency tampons in your purse—it's all part of the fun of having heavy periods. Besides screwing with your quality of life, a heavy flow can also cause an iron deficiency. It happens when you lose so much blood during menstruation that your body's iron stores become depleted. Without proper iron levels, hemoglobin production tanks, and you can develop a condition called iron-deficiency anemia—which triggers all-month-long fatigue, fogginess, and mood swings.
But a new Finnish study suggests a simple way to ease the symptoms: by treating the anemia with iron supplements. Researchers studied 236 women suffering from heavy menstrual bleeding. All the women were already planning to undergo either a hysterectomy or the insertion of a hormonal IUD, which would stop or greatly reduce their flow. Tests found that 27 percent of the women were anemic and 60 percent were severely iron deficient. One year after having a hysterectomy or an IUD inserted, the women diagnosed as anemic reported more energy, better physical and social functioning, and a decrease in anxiety and depression when compared to women who did not have anemia. However, it took five years for both groups of women to have their iron levels restored to normal.
Although the women in this study did not take iron supplements, the researchers concluded that the gains in physical and mental well being in the anemic group was the result of no longer having anemia. These women essentially got rid of the anemia by getting rid of their periods. That's not always a realistic option for many women—yet treating the anemia with iron supplements is. "Our findings suggest that clinicians should screen for anemia in women with heavy menstrual bleeding and recommend early iron supplementation as part of the treatment process,” wrote the lead study author.
If you suffer from a flood-like flow—say you go through a pad or tampon every hour on heavy days—and you've noticed you're feeling more sluggish and foggy than usual, ask your ob-gyn to test your iron levels. If they're low, supplements will help you get back on track.