Blood loss in females can happen for a variety of different reasons. Heavy prolonged menstrual bleeding due to fibroids results in chronic blood loss and anemia. Today we are going to talk about how to recover after blood loss and how to treat the underlying cause of chronic blood loss.
Dr. E. M. Braunstein, a hematologist from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, reported that symptoms of blood loss vary depending on the speed and amount of blood loss. Blood loss is normally categorized as acute or chronic. Acute blood loss is losing blood at a rapid rate and chronic blood loss is losing blood over a longer period of time.
What Can Cause Significant Blood Loss?
Several things can cause significant blood loss including the obvious: an accident, internal injury, or complications from surgery. Then there are the subtle causes of significant blood loss, such as prolonged heavy menstrual bleeding from endometriosis, adenomyosis, or uterine fibroids. Many women suffer each month with these issues but do not realize that they are losing a dangerous amount of blood, as the effects happen gradually and progressively over time. They often do not suspect that the blood loss they are experiencing is abnormal and they should seek medical help because they have been doing this for a long time.
How Much Blood Loss is Too Much?
The amount of blood loss a person can endure depends on their age, size, and general health. Men typically have more blood than women so their threshold is a bit higher. Children have a much lower threshold because they do not have as much blood, to begin with.
Most adults can lose around 14 % of their total blood supply without feeling negative effects. Once you get above that 14% mark, individuals begin to experience negative side effects.
Signs of Excessive Blood Loss
If you are experiencing significant blood loss, you will begin to show signs as your condition worsens. It is important to recognize these signs and get emergency care as soon as possible.
- 15%-30% blood loss can cause nausea, decrease in urine output, lower blood pressure but increase heart and respiratory rates. It can also make you feel weak, tired, anxious, or ill at ease. As your body tries to compensate for the loss of blood it will cause the blood vessels in your extremities to constrict, which can cause the skin to become pale.
- 30%-40% blood loss is very dangerous, blood pressure will drop, and the heart rate will increase. You may show signs of disorientation or obvious confusion and your breathing may be more rapid and shallow. The body will be struggling to maintain adequate blood pressure and circulation, and that may cause loss of consciousness.
- 40%-50 % – the heart cannot maintain blood pressure or circulation and organ failure is imminent, followed by a coma and, most likely, death unless emergency medical intervention takes place.
Chronic Blood Loss in Women
Many women experience a significant loss of blood each month during their menstrual cycle and can also bleed in between their periods. This is categorized as chronic blood loss and is normally caused by an underlying condition, such as adenomyosis, endometriosis, polyps, or uterine fibroids. Many women who suffer from chronic blood loss often have clinical symptoms of anemia.
Anemia from Blood Loss
Anemia is a lack of red blood cells that occurs when the body is losing red blood cells faster than it can replace them. Women with anemia bruise very easily, are often chronically fatigued, can have memory issues such called “brain fog”, feel faint or dizzy, get migraine-like headaches, chew or crave ice (occasionally corn starch, dirt, chalk, clay), experience shortness of breath, rapid heart rate (palpitations), chest pain, or cold feet or hands.
How Long Does Recovery Take?
As a point of reference, when you donate blood they usually draw a pint of blood from you. For an average person, this represents about 10% of their total blood supply. About a third of that pint is made up of red blood cells and the rest is pretty much water. You can replace the water portion fairly easily on the first day by drinking plenty of non-alcoholic fluids.
The red blood cells will take approximately 60 days to replenish. It is important to understand that red blood cells carry oxygen to the vital organs and can affect their performance. Runners are advised not to give blood for at least 2 months before a marathon or a big race as it will affect their performance. Red blood cells will not have the ability to carry oxygen to the muscles needed for the athlete to push themselves the extra distance.
What Can I Do to Recover From Blood Loss?
Acute blood loss requires immediate attention and is a medical emergency. Those experiencing chronic blood loss should be monitored and under a doctor’s care.
If you are beginning to experience some of the milder symptoms associated with blood loss and/or possible anemia, there are things you can do to help your body until you can see your doctor. When you are losing red blood cells faster than your body can produce them, you can eat certain foods to help rebuild your blood supply.
For the Immediate Relief
If you are losing a lot of blood during a heavy period and feeling weak or sick, drink some strong black tea with sugar to provide your body with temporary relief and re-gain some strength.
This tip is especially helpful to those who feel nauseous and struggle with food intake, sometimes for days. Then, when you are feeling better, you should eat something more substantial (see the list of best foods below) to help your body recover faster.
Unlike during a normal period, a heating pad is not recommended during a very heavy period. On the contrary, if you are losing a lot of blood, use an ice pack while laying down on a flat surface and elevate your feet slightly.
Monitor your blood loss very carefully! If you are changing pads more frequently than every 2-3 hours, more than one pad at a time, have accidents in blood, e.g. soiling clothes, bed linens, have blood gush or flood out or pass clots quarter size or larger you need to tell your doctor about these findings immediately.
Tips to Rebuild Your Blood Supply
- Drink an additional 32 oz of non-alcoholic liquids in addition to the daily recommended amount of water;
- Get as much sleep as possible;
- Make sure your daily menu is full of iron-rich foods, folate, and vitamin B-12.
Iron-rich foods: The best sources of iron are meat, fish, and seafood. These contain what is called heme iron, which is readily absorbed by the body. Beef or chicken liver is often “prescribed” to women who have experienced blood loss. The recommended amount of liver is 2 oz twice a week for 4 weeks.
Iron can also be attained through a diet of leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains but these are classified as non-heme iron, and our bodies have a hard time breaking down and using this iron, so it only absorbs a fraction of the iron content. We now know that the absorption rate of non-heme iron goes up when consumed with vitamin C. So if eating a spinach salad, you could combine it with a glass of orange juice to get the most out of it.
Folate can be found in dark green leafy vegetables, avocados, bread, mangoes, oranges, papaya, pomegranate, green peas, kidney beans, peanuts, and enriched grain products, such as bread, cereal, pasta, and rice.
Vitamin B-12 can be found in fortified foods but is naturally found in animal products including beef, animal liver, tuna, salmon, eggs, and dairy products.
Vitamin C to assist with absorption of iron can be found in kiwi, strawberries, oranges, lemons, and other citrus fruits and juices, broccoli, peppers, tomatoes.
How Can I Stop Chronic Blood Loss?
Following healthy eating guidelines and consuming foods suggested to combat anemia will certainly help alleviate some symptoms but will not remedy the cause of the blood loss.
If your blood loss is due to chronic uterine bleeding this is divided into two categories and classified by the PALM-COEIN system. The PALM-COEIN classification defines:
- bleeding due to a non-structural cause, e.g. bleeding disorder, polycystic ovarian syndrome, thyroid disease, and
- bleeding due to a structural cause e.g. fibroids, adenomyosis.
In the non-structural group medication is the first-line therapy along with addressing the cause of the bleeding. If that is not enough and the woman is not interested in fertility, she could consider an endometrial ablation.
In the much more common structural group, in which fibroids are #1, addressing the structural cause is the best method of treatment. For fibroids or adenomyosis, Uterine Artery/Fibroid Embolization (UAE/UFE) is the best treatment method. It has a very high success rate, avoids the risks and long recovery of surgery, allows women to keep their uterus, and even preserves an opportunity to try to get pregnant and have children.
If you are experiencing chronic blood loss, do not suffer in silence anymore. Please call Atlanta Fibroid Center at (770) 953-2600 to make an appointment with one of the nation’s leading UAE/UFE experts Dr. John C. Lipman, or make an appointment online at ATLii.com.