Anemia occurs when there is a problem with the red blood cells. Women with anemia may lack sufficient red blood cells or their blood cells may contain low levels of the protein hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the body. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that roughly 9 percent of American women age 20 to 49 have iron-deficiency anemia, the most common form of the disorder. Many health conditions cause anemia, which leads to a variety of signs and symptoms in women.
Reduced Energy and Strength
Many women with anemia experience fatigue and weakness because the body is not getting the appropriate amount of oxygen from red blood cells. Anemia also causes the heart to work harder to pump blood to the body, which contributes to feeling tired. Because anemia often develops gradually in women, the anemic person may not notice these symptoms or may attribute them to another cause.
Changes in Overall Well-being
Dizziness or lightheadedness can occur among women with anemia, especially if it is due to blood loss or the level of red blood cells is extremely low. Women with anemia may feel short of breath when exercising, climbing stairs or doing other physical activities. Frequent headaches and an irregular or fast heartbeat also commonly occur. An anemic woman may be more irritable and mentally slower than usual.
Changes in the Body
Reduced red blood cells and the increased effort by the heart to compensate can make a woman feel unusually cold, especially in her hands and feet. In extreme cases, she may notice a lack of sensation, or numbness, in those areas. Body temperature may fall slightly below normal, in some cases. The skin may be pale, which is especially noticeable inside the eyelids.
Women who develop sudden, severe anemia due to blood loss typically have more severe symptoms. In this situation, she may develop low blood pressure, chest pain, difficulty breathing and confused thinking. Fainting is common due to low blood pressure. If a woman experiences these types of severe symptoms, she should call her doctor right away.
Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia among women in their childbearing years. However, there are many other possible causes, such as bleeding ulcers, sickle cell disease and ulcerative colitis. Anemia may also be caused by significant blood loss. How anemia is treated depends on the cause. Women with severe anemia may need a blood transfusion. Without treatment, anemia can eventually lead to heart problems and organ damage, so it's important to see a doctor if anemia is suspected.
Is This an Emergency?
- Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology of India: Good Clinical Practice Recommendations for Iron Deficiency Anemia in Pregnancy (IDA) in Pregnancy in India
- Cleveland Clinic: Anemia
- Gut: Guidelines for the Management of Iron Deficiency Anaemia
- Womenshealth.gov: Anemia Fact Sheet
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: Anemia
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: FastStats Anemia or Iron Deficiency