Blood disorders can be dangerous and are of special concern to women because of the unique risks posed by pregnancy, oral contraceptives, menstrual bleeding and hormone-replacement therapy for menopause.
"The hormones estrogen and progesterone can put women at greater risk for blood clots," says Dr. Nancy Berliner, president of the American Society of Hematology (ASH). "These hormones are used in birth control formulations and menopause therapies and are also at higher levels during pregnancy. Women are also at higher risk for anemia than men because of blood loss due to menstrual periods and pregnancy."
ASH therefore urges women to be aware of the following blood disorders, in particular:
- Anemia occurs when the body does not have enough red blood cells to transport oxygen to organs and tissue. Pregnant women are especially at risk as they need more red blood cells to support their own bodies and their babies. Red blood cell production requires iron, and pregnant women often don't have enough iron to be able to make the required increased numbers of red blood cells. Heavy menstruation can also result in iron-deficiency anemia. Symptoms of anemia include fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath.
- Thrombophilia is a dangerous condition in which blood clots form in veins and arteries, blocking the flow of blood. This may cause swelling, pain or redness. Since pregnancy and hormonal medications increase the chance of clotting, women are especially at risk for the disorder.
- Von Willebrand disease is the most common bleeding disorder in women. It is an inherited condition in which blood cannot clot properly. Symptoms include bleeding gums, bruising easily or heavy and long menstrual periods (the most common symptom).
An awareness of the risk factors and symptoms of these disorders is critical, so treatment can be sought before any problems worsen. If you suspect that you have a blood condition, talk to your doctor immediately.
It is especially important for women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant to talk with their obstetricians about these conditions. "Two of the most common blood disorders during pregnancy are blood clots and anemia," said Berliner. "Both blood conditions are treatable, and there are easy ways to help prevent them."
For more information, visit www.bloodthevitalconnection.org.