I have uterine fibroids that cause heavy menstrual periods. I'm worried about becoming anemic. Should I take an iron supplement?

It's true that blood loss from heavy periods can lead to iron deficiency anemia — a condition in which you don't have enough iron in your body. Women who have uterine fibroids and suffer from heavy bleeding are at risk of anemia.

But just because you have heavy menstrual periods doesn't mean you should take an iron supplement. In fact, taking an iron supplement if you don't need one may do more harm than good.

What are the symptoms of anemia?

Without enough iron, your body can't produce enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout your body. As a result, iron deficiency anemia may make you tired and short of breath.

At first, the signs and symptoms of anemia may be mild and unnoticeable. But as the body becomes more iron deficient, they become more obvious, including:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Pale skin
  • Chest pain, fast heartbeat or shortness of breath
  • Headache, dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Inflammation or soreness of your tongue
  • Brittle nails
  • Unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances, such as ice, dirt or starch

Before taking an iron supplement, talk to your health care provider

It's important to talk to your health care provider if you have heavy menstrual periods. Feeling tired is a common side effect of heavy periods, but it doesn't always mean you are low on iron. Your doctor will likely have you take a blood test to check for anemia and other conditions. If you are low on iron, you may need to take an iron supplement or other medications if necessary.

Taking an iron supplement when you don't need one can cause harm and sometimes lead to serious consequences. Iron supplements can cause an upset stomach, constipation, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting and fainting. In addition, overloading the body with iron can damage your liver and kidneys and cause other health problems.

Do you need more iron when you're on your period?

Eating food that's high in iron is a healthy option anytime of the month. The amount of iron you need each day depends on your age and sex. During your menstrual period, be sure to stay hydrated, get adequate sleep, and eat a healthy diet. This can help offset the fatigue you may feel during your period.

To make sure you have enough iron in your body, aim to get the recommended amounts of iron every day:

Gender and Age Dose
Adult women 19-50 years 18 mg
Teens girls 14-18 years 15 mg
Adult men 19-50 years 8 mg
Teens boys 14-18 years 11 mg
Adults 51 years and older 8 mg

Safely increase your iron by eating iron-rich foods

Regularly eating food that's rich in iron can help keep your iron at a healthy level. Vitamin C improves the ability of your body to absorb iron. Try drinking citrus juice or eating foods high in vitamin C while you eat iron-rich food.

Aim to make these iron-rich foods part of your diet:

  • Spinach
  • Tofu
  • Iron-fortified breakfast cereal and bread
  • Lean beef
  • Seafood
  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Nuts
  • Quinoa
  • Beans
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Liver (try in pate form)
  • Dark chocolate (in moderation)

With

Kristina Butler, M.D., M.S.

May 27, 2021 See more Expert Answers