By Dr Poornima J
As governments across the world struggle to come to terms with the raging pandemic, now more than ever, it is incumbent on citizens to be proactive and take care of their health. Along with senior citizens and individuals with co-morbidities, pregnant women are one of the key demographics who need to nurture themselves and minimize potential complications.
It has long been established that iron deficiency is one of the most significant nutritional problems that afflict pregnant women. Studies have concluded that up to 52 percent of all pregnant women suffer from iron deficiency. While this is undeniably a global healthcare challenge, the prevalence is higher in the developing world. What makes this a harder challenge to deal with is that unlike most deficiencies, the symptoms can be quite hard to discern.
The primary symptoms associated with iron deficiency anemia include the following;
Extreme fatigue and weakness
Chest pain, heightened heartbeat, or shortness of breath
Headache, dizziness, or lightheadedness
Inflammation or soreness of the tongue
Poor appetite, especially in infants and children with iron-deficiency anemia
The reduced appetite caused due to iron deficiency often initiates a vicious circle as it becomes incredibly hard to boost one’s hemoglobin levels when they don’t consume a nutritious diet, which in turn is difficult to do when one has a poor appetite. Hence, maintaining healthy hemoglobin levels is of utmost importance. Iron deficiency is a greater concern in pregnant women because of the effects it can have on the health of the fetus. Apart from increasing the risk of placental abruption and placental previa, it can also cause hypertension, growth retardation, and other complications during pregnancy. To make matters worse, the newborn could also be born with anemia.
While the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 12 as a healthy hemoglobin level, a minimum level of 10 must be maintained. Apart from consuming a balanced diet rich in green leafy vegetables and red vegetables like beetroot and carrot, avoiding worm infestation is also an extremely crucial step. Taking a periodic course of deworming medicines like Albendazole (400 mg) is an effective way to treat the issue.
Understandably, combating a medical issue as widespread as this is an enormous challenge in itself. What compounds the challenge is the relentless pandemic that exacerbates some of the problems caused by iron deficiency. Anemia is one of the largest factors that compromise the immunity of women. A weakened immunity, therefore, makes the individual more vulnerable to COVID and other viral diseases, as the ability of the liver and pancreas to produce antibodies gets significantly hampered.
It is since imperative that pregnant women take precautionary measures to avoid iron deficiency. Should one experience any of the symptoms commonly associated with iron deficiency, seeking swift medical intervention is the need of the hour. Apart from maintaining a nourishing, iron-rich diet, it is also worthwhile to take iron, calcium, and protein supplements.
(The writer is MBBS, MS – Obstetrics & Gynaecology – Bengaluru)