The symptoms of anemia, such as fatigue, are typically the same across the sexes. However, females may experience these symptoms more severely.

Anemia is a condition involving a deficiency in the number or quality of red blood cells in the body, which can reduce the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen.

This article examines how anemia can affect females.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Anemia symptoms are generally the same for both sexes, as they primarily relate to the blood’s reduced capacity to carry oxygen to tissues and organs.

However, the severity of the condition’s symptoms can vary between males and females. A 2022 editor’s letter suggested that females may experience fatigue and other symptoms more intensely.

The common anemia symptoms include:

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), anemia is a serious global health concern, particularly affecting:

  • Menstruating people: People with heavy menstrual periods may experience more noticeable fatigue and weakness due to increased blood loss. These can worsen anemia symptoms.
  • Pregnant people: During pregnancy, the body’s blood volume increases, which can dilute red blood cells and lead to anemia. Symptoms like fatigue and shortness of breath may be more noticeable, and people may mistakenly link them to the pregnancy itself rather than anemia.
  • People who have given birth: After childbirth, people may experience postpartum anemia due to blood loss during delivery and worsening symptoms, such as fatigue.

The WHO estimates that anemia affects 37% of pregnant people and 30% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 years old.

Anemia in females can have the following effects:

  • Reduced energy levels: Anemia’s hallmark symptom is fatigue, which may severely limit a person’s ability to perform some daily activities, exercise, and work or family responsibilities.
  • Weakened immune function: Anemia can weaken the immune system, which might make females more likely to get infections and illnesses.
  • Pregnancy complications: Severe anemia during pregnancy can increase the risk of preterm delivery or delivering a baby with a low birth weight. It can also affect the person giving birth, increasing the risk of infections and blood loss during labor and delivery.
  • Menstrual symptoms: Those with anemia may experience more severe menstrual symptoms, including heavy bleeding, which can worsen anemia.
  • Heart health concerns:Chronic anemia can lead to increased heart rate and can stress the cardiovascular system, potentially contributing to conditions such as heart disease or heart failure. Those with anemia and heart failure may likely be older and female.

If someone experiences any of the following symptoms, especially if they persist or worsen, it is advisable for them to contact a doctor:

  • unexplained fatigue or weakness
  • pale or yellowish skin
  • shortness of breath, especially with minimal exertion
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • cold hands and feet
  • irregular or fast heart rate
  • chest pain
  • headaches
  • menstrual concerns

Those who experience heavy menstrual bleeding or long periods may wish to consult a healthcare professional, as these can be significant risk factors for developing iron deficiency anemia.

It is a good idea for pregnant people to contact their healthcare professional regularly and mention anemia symptoms. Anemia during pregnancy can affect the person giving birth and the fetus, and early treatment is crucial.

The complete blood count is the primary test for diagnosing anemia. It measures several levels, including:

  • Hemoglobin: Higher or lower levels of hemoglobin can show anemia. Hemoglobin is a protein rich in iron that carries oxygen around the body.
  • Hematocrit: This refers to the percentage of blood volume made up of red blood cells. Low levels suggest anemia.
  • Red blood cell count: Red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs. A low red blood cell level can mean anemia.
  • Mean corpuscular volume: This shows the average size of red blood cells. High or low levels can point out anemia. It can also help differentiate between types of anemia.

Depending on the results of the complete blood count, further tests may be necessary to identify the anemia’s cause:

  • Iron tests: These measure serum iron, ferritin, and transferrin saturation to assess iron deficiency.
  • Vitamin B12 and folate levels: Low levels of these vitamins can cause anemia.
  • Reticulocyte count: High levels show the bone marrow produces red blood cells at an increased rate, often in response to anemia.

Treatment for anemia in females depends on the type, cause, anemia severity, and underlying health conditions contributing to it.

Potential treatment options may include:

  • iron supplements
  • dietary changes
  • vitamin B12 supplements
  • folate supplements
  • management of the underlying condition

The outlook for females with anemia is generally positive, especially when a person receives an early diagnosis and the appropriate treatment.

The outlook depends on the cause of the anemia, its severity, and the underlying health conditions that are present.

The following are questions people frequently ask about anemia.

How do you feel when you have anemia?

When someone has anemia, they may feel tired and weak.

Other common symptoms include shortness of breath, dizziness, cold hands and feet, pale or yellowish skin, and an irregular or fast heart rate.

Some people also experience headaches and difficulty concentrating.

What can help anemia immediately?

If the anemia is due to deficiency, immediate help may involve taking iron or vitamin supplements and eating a diet rich in these nutrients.

Treatments like blood transfusions or intravenous iron therapy may be necessary in severe cases to quickly increase red blood cells or iron levels.

What happens if anemia is untreated?

Without treatment, anemia can lead to serious health concerns such as severe fatigue. These can affect the ability to perform everyday tasks, lead to heart health concerns, cause complications during pregnancy, and increase the likelihood of infections. Over time, the symptoms can worsen and lead to health complications.

When anemia is an emergency?

Doctors consider anemia an emergency in several situations, such as when it leads to severe symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, or fainting. These symptoms can show that the body’s organs do not receive enough oxygen.

Also, low hemoglobin levels, significant blood loss, or rapid red blood cell decline require immediate medical attention.

Anemia symptoms do not typically vary between the sexes. However, females may experience more severe symptoms.

By addressing anemia effectively, doctors can significantly improve the health, well-being, and quality of life of females affected by this condition.