Don’t Let Anemia Slow You Down for the Holidays
By Whitney Wilhide, RN
When questioned about vitamin and mineral supplementation, some people reply with answers such as “I am healthy and feel great, I don’t need it.” Or how about this one? “I will wait until my blood work comes back abnormal.” Others reply “when I think about it” or “the cost is too high”. Perhaps, people are unaware of the consequences of this kind of ‘faulty thinking’.
Anemia in a post-surgical bariatric patient is often caused by an iron deficiency. It is also possible to have acute blood loss anemia if you had surgery or have an ulcer or hemorrhoids. Anemia is most common in menstruating females. Each menstruation, 20 mg of iron is lost from the body. Iron deficiency can, however, happen to any gastric bypass patient, male or female, who is not taking proper iron supplements. Why? Because the portion of intestines that absorbs iron is re-routed and doesn’t have contact with food.
Anemia from iron deficiency reduces red blood cells. These cells are responsible for carrying oxygen to all the tissues in your body. If the number of red blood cells is moderately or severely reduced, then proper oxygenation of your tissues does not occur. In a bariatric patient who is not taking iron supplements, anemia is likely to occur and to get worse with time.
One of the most common symptoms of iron deficiency and anemia is fatigue. Another relatively common symptom of an iron deficiency is pica, a craving for ice, dirt, paint, or starch. Other symptoms include: jaundice, itchy skin, blurred vision, sore tongue, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, headache, vertigo, memory loss, confusion, bone pain, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to cold. More serious conditions associated with iron deficiencies include heart palpitations, angina (chest pain), congestive heart failure, and a myocardial infarction – that is correct, a heart attack due to lack of oxygenation to the heart.
Our goal as healthcare professionals is to prevent iron deficiency anemia by providing guidelines for proper supplementation.
- Iron supplements are required post-surgery for individuals who have had surgeries that have bypassed the area of the gut where iron is absorbed, i.e. the gastric bypass, duodenal switch, biliopancreatic diversion.
- Iron pills must not be enteric coated.
- Acidic environments help with iron absorption. It is, therefore, good to take iron with vitamin C or orange juice. Do not, however, take an iron supplement with an antacid such as pepcid or milk and do not take iron at the same time you take calcium or other minerals.
- Foods, such as red meat, are very high in heme iron which is the form of iron that is most readily absorbed by your body.
Once anemia is identified, treatment must begin immediately. This may include special iron pills taken multiple times per day or IV iron infusions and even blood transfusions.
It is also imperative that bariatric patients have regular blood work to check for iron deficiency anemia. Without treatment of this condition, a lack of oxygen to the heart, brain, and other organs may occur along with severe health consequences.
Don’t let this happen to you. Take your iron supplements regularly because YOU deserve good health!