Anemia in pregnancy

Anemia in pregnancy can be difficult to detect. Symptoms may not be apparent or be easily confused with normal changes in pregnant women. Being well-informed about the disease will help you to more easily identify and prevent it.

What is anemia in pregnancy?

There are cells found in the blood called red blood cells which are responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to other organs to ensure their normal functioning. It is a protein located on the red blood cells; hemoglobin, that allows oxygen to be transported. Anemia occurs when a person’s blood does not contain enough hemoglobin to supply sufficient amounts of oxygen to the rest of the body.

During pregnancy, your baby uses your blood to obtain the nutrients it needs and to oxygenate its organs to continue its development. Thus, your body must produce more hemoglobin to fulfill not only your needs, but also those of your unborn child.

However, it is possible that your body is incapable of producing enough hemoglobin to adequately fulfill your needs and those of your baby. If this is the case, you suffer from what is called anemia in pregnancy. This problems occurs especially at the end of the second trimester or at the beginning of the third.

What are the causes and the risk factors?

Anemia is the result of an imbalance between the production of red blood cells and the loss of them. Therefore, the causes of anemia can result at these two levels. In the case of anemia in pregnancy, the body produces an insufficient quantity of red blood cells, often due to nutritional deficiencies. In more rare cases, it can occur during labour if there is a significant loss of blood.

Iron, a crucial element in the production of hemoglobin, when deficient, is the main cause of anemia during pregnancy. A vitamin B-12 or folic acid deficiency can also be the cause.

Some factors can increase the risk of anemia in pregnancy, for instance:

  • the presence of anemia before pregnancy
  • multiple birth pregnancy
  • closely spaced pregnancies
  • frequent vomiting related to nausea in pregnancy
  • iron deficient diet
  • heavy periods before pregnancy

What are the signs and symptoms?

Anemia may not manifest any apparent symptoms, especially when it is minor. However, it can cause the following symptoms:

  • fatigue or weakness
  • difficulty concentrating
  • pale skin
  • dizziness
  • shortness of breath
  • rapid heartbeat

In all cases, the best way to diagnose anemia in pregnancy is to do a blood test to measure the level of hemoglobin in the blood. This method enables easy detection of the presence of anemia, as well as its severity.

What are the complications?

In addition to causing unwanted symptoms for the mother, anemia in pregnancy can also lead to the following complications for the child:

  • low birth weight
  • premature birth
  • a higher risk of anemia during the first years of life
  • risk of fetal death (in more severe cases)

This is why the doctor who is monitoring your pregnancy will ensure that your hemoglobin levels are adequate throughout your pregnancy using routine blood tests. If anemia is detected, more extensive tests will help your doctor to determine the cause and to choose the best-suited treatment for you.

What are the preventive measures?

The best way to prevent anemia in pregnancy is to have a varied diet that is rich in iron. The following foods are a good source of iron:

  • red meat
  • fish and seafood
  • poultry
  • iron-fortified cereal
  • leafy green vegetables (spinach, broccoli, etc.)
  • eggs
  • dried fruits and nuts
  • legumes

In order to improve iron absorption, it is preferable to avoid consuming foods rich in iron at the same time as tea, coffee or foods rich in calcium or phosphorous. A diet that is rich in vitamin B-12 (meat, fish, seafood, milk products, and eggs) and in folic acid (fortified grains, legumes, etc.) is also advisable to prevent anemia.

In addition to a varied diet, taking a prenatal multivitamin ensures an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals, including iron and folic acid. In addition to helping to prevent anemia in pregnancy, this type of product also helps to prevent other problems such as neural tube defects.

How can anemia in pregnancy be treated?

The recommended treatment by your doctor will largely depend on the cause and severity of your anemia. Because the main cause of anemia in pregnancy is due to lack of iron, the most commonly prescribed treatment is taking an iron supplement. This treatment must be taken in addition to the prenatal multivitamin and will not replace it.

If an iron supplement is necessary, you should be aware that it is preferable to take it on an empty stomach or with foods that are rich in vitamin C (i.e. orange juice) to maximize its absorption. The main side effects of iron supplements are of a digestive nature (constipation, cramps, dark stool, etc.). Pharmacists are your greatest ally—do not hesitate to ask them for information about the best way to take an iron supplement and how to manage the side effects that are related to it.

At first glance, anemia in pregnancy may seem worrisome. Fortunately, this problem can be treated effectively to preserve your health and that of your child. If you suffer from anemia in pregnancy, don’t let it get under your skin! Instead, ask your pharmacist for advice so you can implement all of the necessary measures that will enable you to have a healthy pregnancy.

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Anemia in pregnancy

Anemia in pregnancy can be difficult to detect. Symptoms may not be apparent or be easily confused with normal changes in pregnant women. Being well-informed about the disease will help you to more easily identify and prevent it. 
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