Uterine fibroids are benign tumors in the uterus that are often associated with heavy bleeding during periods and sometimes between periods. This means that the volume of blood loss during and between periods exceeds the norm. At first, the body compensates for iron deficiency caused by excessive loss of blood but your body’s reserves are not limitless. As a result, anemia can occur in women with uterine fibroids.
Anemia and Uterine Fibroids: How These Conditions Affect Your Life
A lot of women with anemia resulting from uterine fibroids experience chronic fatigue and loss of energy. It can be accompanied by unusually rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, headaches, chewing/craving ice, and even chewing/craving things that are not edible (ex. dirt, clay, laundry starch).
A Patient of Dr. John Lipman Speaks about Anemia Symptoms
Other common symptoms of anemia can include:
- heart palpitations
- thinning of hair, hair loss
- brittle nails
- constantly cold hands and feet
- unusually pale skin
- frequent infections (due to weakened immune system)
- restless legs syndrome
With excessive monthly blood loss, iron and hemoglobin is lost along with blood. Hemoglobin carries oxygen and therefore, less oxygen is delivered to a woman’s organs and tissues. In addition, in order to compensate for the lack of circulating red blood cells, the heart is forced to work harder. Sometimes women do not notice the anemia symptoms as abnormal due to the gradual progressively worsening symptoms (due to the deficit of iron and hemoglobin from the heavy blood loss). Even with oral iron, these symptoms often persist and become the patient’s “new normal”.
Anemia and Uterine Fibroids: Treatment Options
To cope with anemia symptoms, a woman needs to increase the levels of hemoglobin in her blood. There are several options here.
One of them is taking medications prescribed by a doctor or vitamins that contain necessary amount of iron.
Diet changes can help increase hemoglobin levels. It is recommended to consume more proteins (chicken, beef liver), seafood rich in iron. For vegetarians beans, spinach, oranges, apples, and pomegranate are recommended.
It’s necessary to constantly monitor hemoglobin levels in your blood. This can be done with a simple blood test. But even if a woman takes iron-enriched vitamins/supplements or prescription iron, anemia resulting from uterine fibroids can only be treated by addressing the cause and treating these tumors.
Gynecologists typically won’t operate on women with symptomatic fibroids for a Hemoglobin level below 8g/dL and sometimes even below 10g/dL (normal ~12g/dL). Intravenous infusions of iron or blood can temporarily boost iron/hemoglobin levels to allow surgery. However, iron or blood infusions can elicit allergic reactions and is only buying time. What is necessary is treating the cause and not just the symptoms.
UFE (uterine fibroid embolization) is an effective, minimally invasive, nonsurgical procedure that allows women to treat all fibroids and address all uterine fibroid symptoms, including anemia. It’s an outpatient procedure that allows women to go home the same day and avoid risks and complications of a fibroid surgery. In addition, UFE can be performed without any infusion of blood or iron as there is no blood loss during the procedure (unlike surgery). This is particularly important in women who are Jehovah’s Witness as they do not accept any blood products.