Why signs of iron deficiency in young girls and women are frequently overlooked

Although doctors rarely test for it, a recent study found that over 40% of adolescent girls and young women have low amounts of the crucial mineral required to form red blood cells.

In the United States, nearly one in four adolescent girls and young women may be suffering from exhaustion, brain fog, and concentration issues due to an underdiagnosed shortage of a vital mineral.

A study published this week in JAMA indicated that low levels of iron, a crucial mineral required to produce red blood cells, were present in nearly 40% of American teenage girls and young women. This is the first study to examine iron insufficiency in teenage girls and young women.

Researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on women and girls aged 12 to 21 that was gathered during the previous 20 years for the study. They discovered that 6% of the respondents to the survey sample had iron deficiency anemia.

Dr. Angela Weyand, an associate professor of pediatricians at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor and a pediatric hematologist-oncologist, was not surprised by the results.Pediatricians and primary care physicians who think their patients may be iron deficient frequently send her to other doctors. She questioned the problem’s prevalence.

Weyand stated, “Unfortunately, my hypothesis that I only observed the tip of the iceberg is correct.”

Although clinicians rarely check for iron deficiency, the CDC advises women of reproductive age to have a blood test for anemia every five to ten years. Weyand and her associates have not yet determined whether iron deficiency is increasing or has been continuously high for the previous 2 decades.

What signs of an iron deficit are present?

According to her, teenagers and young women frequently are unaware that the symptoms they are experiencing are an iron deficiency as they can be mild or mistaken for other issues like insomnia.

Weyand lists the following as signs of an iron deficiency:

  • Fatigue.
  • chilled limbs.
  • hair fall.
  • frail nails.
  • problems with cognition such as brain fog.
  • reduced capacity for sports.
  • breathlessness when exerting oneself.
  • Lust for junk food.
  • headache and dizziness.
  • sleep-related issues.

Menstruation was a risk factor, but the data also revealed that 25% of the females who had not yet begun their periods had iron deficiency.

Although iron levels can be depleted even in cases where bleeding is within normal limits, women and girls who experience heavy periods lose a significant amount of iron, according to Weyland.

Because clinicians frequently test just for anemia instead of the amount of ferritin, a blood protein which includes iron and is a marker for stored iron, people with low iron levels are frequently unaware that they have low iron.

Dr. Rachel Bercovitz, an associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and an attending hematologist at the Ann & Robert Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, advised thinking of ferritin as a measure of your “iron savings account.” She was not a part of the recent study.

The iron we consume on a daily basis is deposited into a checking account and is utilized to produce red blood cells and other iron-dependent tissues, the speaker explained. “Any remaining funds are deposited into the savings account. Ironically, you might not be enough to keep up and have enough for your period if you’re living paycheck to paycheck.

A significant number of symptoms that girls encounter are associated with the effects of iron deficiency on hemoglobin, a blood protein.

According to Bercovitz, “the essential component of hemoglobin is iron, and red blood cells are essentially pouches of hemoglobin that carry oxygen to tissues.” “More red blood cells are produced when there is insufficient iron, which explains symptoms like fatigue, headaches, dizziness, and shortness of breath.”

Dr. Allison Wheeler, an associate professor in the pathology, microbiology, and immunology department at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, stated that those symptoms can provide a significant challenge for youngsters. Wheeler did not participate in the recent study.

Which periods are typical and which are heavy?

It is challenging to draw a precise line. However, Bercovitz said that it was heavy if a person needed to sleep on a towel, change their tampon or pad more frequently than every four to six hours, or use sleeping pads in addition to period underwear due to leakage.

Maintaining a healthy amount of iron reserves can be achieved in several ways.

“You can increase your intake of meat or leafy green vegetables,” she advised. “Even using a cast-iron pan when cooking might raise the iron content of your food. Iron supplements could be a smart idea if your diet isn’t providing you with enough iron.

Other foods that are rich in iron are:

  • Eggs.
  • seafood, like sardines or tuna.
  • Tofu.
  • Beans.
    Research has indicated that individuals with mild iron deficiency anemia can benefit from taking an iron supplement every other day. Administering them thrice weekly as opposed to daily will result in a reduced incidence of adverse effects, such tummy discomfort or an unpleasant aftertaste.

Some individuals have stomach ache. Additionally, constipation and possibly diarrhea may result with the supplements. Because of the possibility of nausea, it’s crucial to take them with food, according to Bercovitz.

She suggests avoiding calcium-rich foods when taking the supplements because calcium can prevent iron from being absorbed.

Bercovitz continued, “Taking pills along with a cup of orange juice can help improve the amount of iron absorbed.

Using birth control tablets or other techniques that can lessen menstrual bleeding is an additional strategy.

Doctors rarely measure ferritin, therefore women have to stand up for themselves, according to Wheeler.

“We need to have a detailed conversation about menstrual bleeding because there is a lot of stigma associated with it,” she continued. Furthermore, it’s critical that doctors pay attention to and have faith in their patients.

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