Approximately two-thirds of the iron in your body is contained in your hemoglobin, the iron-rich protein that makes up red blood cells. Because most of the iron in your body is in your blood, most iron loss occurs as a result of blood loss. According to Medline Plus, women with heavy menstrual cycles have smaller iron stores due to significant blood loss. Because of this, women who experience heavy menstruation are at a higher risk of developing iron-deficiency anemia.
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Uses for Iron Supplement
An iron supplement is commonly used to replace the iron lost during heavy menstruation to prevent iron-deficiency anemia. Iron supplements are also a part of the treatment plan used to restore iron levels in women who have already developed iron-deficiency anemia from extensive blood loss.
The specific dosage for iron supplements depends on the type of iron supplement you take as well as the strength of the supplement. MayoClinic.com provides average dosage recommendations for women. Adult females should take 10 to 15 mg of oral dosage iron, such as capsules, tablets or liquid, per day to prevent deficiency. Dosages are generally higher to treat deficiency. The specific dosage depends on level of iron loss as well as your specific condition.
Your body absorbs iron supplements most efficiently when taken on an empty stomach with 8 oz. of water or juice. Try to time supplementation for approximately 1 hour before or 2 hours after a meal. If iron supplements cause stomach upset, MayoClinic.com notes that they may be taken with food or directly after a meal, but this will decrease their absorption.
Side Effects and Precautions
Most women tolerate iron supplements without any adverse health effects. When side effects do occur, they may include dizziness, chills, fainting, increased heart rate, flushing, headache, metallic taste in the mouth, nausea, vomiting, skin rash, hives, abdominal pain and cramps. An iron overdose can occur when a woman takes too much iron, causing an excessive accumulation of iron in the blood. Early symptoms of an iron overdose include diarrhea, fever, nausea, intense vomiting and severe stomach cramps. A severe iron overdose can result in clammy skin, shallow breathing, extreme fatigue, blue colored lips and hands and seizures. If you experience any of these symptoms while taking an iron supplement, contact your doctor immediately.
Although iron supplements are available over-the-counter, iron supplementation should only be done under the care of your health care provider. If you feel that you are at risk of developing iron-deficiency anemia due to heavy menstrual period, talk to your doctor about the risks and side effects before beginning supplementation.