Dispelling the myths of anemia

Anemia is a common condition, but one that is often overlooked.

The symptoms -- lightheadness and fatigue -- can be vague.

So vague, in fact, that busy mom Yackie Rodriguez often ignored when she felt tired, but she became very concerned about her health after a frightening moment while she was driving.

"I felt really dizzy, lightheaded," she said. "I couldn't really see the road too well."

Rodriguez went to the doctor and a blood test found she was anemic.

That means she didn't have enough red blood cells, which are essential for carrying oxygen throughout the body.

Marvin Lipman, a Consumer Reports medical advisor, explained who is often affected by anemia.
"The most common cause of anemia is a low blood iron level due to loss of blood," he said. "Studies show that as many as 1 in 7 premenopausal women have heavy or irregular periods, and that can lead to anemia."

Another cause of iron deficiency anemia can be gastrointestinal bleeding, which can be triggered by something as simple as taking too much aspirin or ibuprofen over time.

Internal bleeding can also alert your doctor to check for other underlying conditions such as ulcers and polyps.

Treatment of the anemia may depend on its severity.

"If the iron deficiency is very mild, iron-rich foods can sometimes do the trick," Lipman said.

Spinach, kale, legumes -- like lentils and beans -- as well as beef, chicken and fish can boost the iron in your blood, but sometimes stronger measures are needed.

Iron supplements taken orally can also be helpful but only if recommended by your doctor.

If anemia is severe, a blood transfusion may be necessary.

The experts at Consumer Reports advise against taking iron supplements on your own, so make sure you speak with your doctor about it.

There can be harmful side effects, and iron can also interfere with other medications you may already be taking.

If your doctor does prescribe an iron supplement, be sure to keep the bottle well out of reach of children.
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