Uterine fibroids are growths that form inside the wall of the uterus. They’re considered tumors, but they’re usually noncancerous.

About 70 percent of white women and more than 80 percent of women “of African ancestry” will receive a diagnosis of uterine fibroids during their lifetimes.

Some people experience heavy bleeding because of fibroids. This excessive blood loss can lead to anemia, which is when there’s low iron in the body. But iron deficiency anemia from fibroids is treatable.

Your doctor can work with you to determine the best steps to reduce your anemia risk. They can also help you get your iron levels back up if you experience heavy bleeding from uterine fibroids.

People with iron deficiency anemia may not show any symptoms, but signs may appear as the condition worsens. If you have anemia, you might experience some of the following:

  • fatigue or tiredness
  • weakness
  • dizziness
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • cold hands and feet
  • concentration problems
  • brittle nails
  • cracks on the sides of the mouth
  • sore or swollen tongue
  • pale skin
  • cravings for nonfood items like dirt or paper

Fatigue and weakness are the most common symptoms of iron deficiency anemia. More severe cases may also cause an irregular heart rate or heart palpitations.

Uterine fibroids are just one potential cause of anemia. If you also experience heavy menstrual bleeding and have signs of anemia, fibroids might be the underlying reason.

There are several risk factors for uterine fibroids, which can cause iron deficiency anemia. Some fibroid risk factors you can reduce, while others you can’t change.

Modifiable risk factors for uterine fibroids, or things you might be able to change, include diet and obesity. A diet high in green vegetables may provide protection against fibroids.

Non-modifiable risk factors include:

  • Age. Fibroids are more common as women enter their 30s and 40s and tend to shrink after menopause.
  • Family history. Women are more likely to have fibroids if a family member also has them. If your mother had fibroids, your risk is three times that of a woman whose mother didn’t have fibroids.
  • Ethnicity. African American women are at a higher risk for fibroids.

African American women develop fibroids at a younger age than white women, about 5 years earlier on average. They also have more severe symptoms and may experience more treatment complications.

Even if you’re at a higher risk for uterine fibroids, you can take steps to reduce your chances of developing anemia.

Talking with your doctor can be an important way to prevent iron deficiency anemia. Your doctor can confirm your iron stores are low and rule out other causes for your symptoms.

If you do have anemia, your doctor can also determine whether heavy bleeding from uterine fibroids might be the cause. Together, you can develop a plan of action, whether that means treating the fibroids or taking steps to get more iron into your body.

To prevent anemia, your doctor may recommend diet changes or supplements.

Iron-rich foods include:

  • meat
  • poultry
  • leafy greens
  • iron-fortified pastas

Taking an iron pill can also help prevent anemia. If your iron stores are already low, your doctor may prescribe medicinal iron, which is a much higher dose than what’s available in over-the-counter vitamin supplements.

Even if you’re taking medicinal iron, it can take some time for your iron to return to more typical levels. Your doctor can do regular testing to see whether your body is absorbing the iron from your diet and the supplementation.

Since obesity is also a risk factor for uterine fibroids, some people may also choose to engage in activities that promote weight loss.

There are a few ways to treat iron deficiency anemia and uterine fibroids. Even if treatment for the fibroids results in reduced bleeding, your doctor may recommend treatment to replenish your iron stores.

If you have severe anemia, your doctor may recommend intravenous iron or a blood transfusion. Once your iron is back to more typical levels, your doctor may recommend you continue with diet changes or take supplements to prevent future anemia.

Your doctor can also discuss treating symptoms from uterine fibroids. These options range from medications to surgery:

  • Birth control medication. This medication can help reduce heavy bleeding. Your doctor may prescribe birth control pills or an intrauterine device.
  • Gonadotropin releasing hormone agonists. These are drugs that can shrink fibroids. Some women take these to make fibroids smaller before they are surgically removed.
  • Myomectomy. This is a surgical procedure to remove fibroids. It leaves the uterus in place.
  • Hysterectomy. This is a surgery to remove the uterus.
  • Endometrial ablation. This is the removal of the uterine lining to control bleeding.

The option you choose depends on several factors. Your doctor will take into account the location of the fibroids, the severity of your symptoms, and your fertility and personal health goals.

Uterine fibroids are a common condition but can cause serious symptoms like heavy bleeding. African American women are more often diagnosed with fibroids and experience them at an earlier age than white women.

Women with heavy menstrual bleeding are at higher risk for iron deficiency anemia. You can manage your anemia risk by replenishing iron through diet and supplements.

In partnership with your doctor, you can develop a plan to manage uterine fibroids with medication or surgical intervention.