Iron Deficiency in Menstruating Adult Women: Much More than Anemia

Womens Health Rep (New Rochelle). 2020 Jan 29;1(1):26-35. doi: 10.1089/whr.2019.0011. eCollection 2020.


Background: Iron deficiency anemia (IDA) is highly prevalent in women of child-bearing age. However, their nonhematological symptoms have been overlooked. This study aims to analyze the nonhematological features and symptoms of IDA in a group of women of reproductive age and the changes occurred during iron therapy. Materials and Methods: IDA women underwent dietary, physical activity, menstrual blood loss, and cognitive function assessment at baseline. Hematological and biochemical parameters were analyzed. Executive attention was tested by the flanker task and working memory by the 2-back task. Oral iron therapy (ferrous sulfate) was given to 35 women for 8 weeks and the changes in iron status, biochemical markers, cognitive function, and nonhematological symptoms were evaluated. Results: Patients presented nonhematological symptoms: pica, 32.4%; cheilitis, 20.6%; restless legs syndrome (RLS), 20.6%; diffuse hair loss, 55.9%; and ungual alterations, 38.2%. Two or more symptoms were present in 58.8% of women. Serum iron and working memory were correlated at baseline. Multivariate analyses show associations (odds ratio [OR], 95% confidence interval [CI]) between pica and reaction time in the working memory test (OR 2.14, 95% CI 1.19-3.87, p = 0.012); RLS with total serum protein (OR 0.08, 95% CI 0.06-0.92, p = 0.043); and cheilitis with mean corpuscular hemoglobin (OR 0.388, 95% CI 0.189-0.799, p = 0.01). Pica, cheilitis, and RLS completely resolved with iron therapy, and ungual alterations and hair loss improved in 92.3% and 84.2% of women, respectively. Better performance in executive attention and working memory was observed after iron therapy. Conclusions: More attention should be given to the nonhematological manifestations of IDA to improve the quality of life of menstruating women.

Keywords: cognitive function; iron deficiency anemia; menstruation; nonhematological symptoms; women.