My Heavy Menstrual Bleeding Led to Iron-Deficiency Anemia and Disrupted My Profession, however I Took My Life Again
I always knew I had a family history of fibroids and heavy menstrual bleeding. My grandmother and aunt both had hysterectomies in their mid-30s, and my mother had one by the age of 40. But because I already had no symptoms from my family members, I thought I had escaped the chance.
I started bleeding profusely when I was in my 30s. At first I thought I could handle it on my own. Then it began to affect my work life, to the point where I had to change in my lower desk drawer. When I had my period, I never knew when I might be bleeding from what I was wearing. It was embarrassing and debilitating, and not conducive to being a professional woman.
I am a professor and at the time I also worked for the state government. I was responsible for an entire county that traveled extensively and across the state. I remember calling my secretary from my car and asking her to bring down my jacket, laptop, and books because I was bleeding through everything and couldn’t get out of the car.
In other cases, exhaustion made me leave work early or even stay home. On bad days, the excessive bleeding literally kept me in bed, lying on towels, barely moving or eating. The fatigue was so extreme that I felt like I was attacked by a family of vampires. I also suffered from migraine headaches and had terrible pain from convulsions.
Little did I know my uterine bleeding was causing anemia. My mother was the one who informally diagnosed me. She was working in a hospital lab and thought I should do a complete blood count (CBC) to see what was going on.
“You’re pale; you don’t look good,” she told me, concerned for my health. But I still haven’t decreased my blood levels. My doctor was male and he didn’t think the bleeding was a big deal or recommend blood tests. He sent me for an ultrasound and that was all.
Until 2017, I feared that my monthly plight would look like a pattern for my employer. I had to do something so I went to a surgeon recommended by a friend. He was a pelvic gynecologist and ordered magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to get to the bottom of my symptoms. Still hoping for another baby, I delayed planning the procedure. I soon found out that I was pregnant with my second son.
During this pregnancy and after the birth, I got a much-needed break from the bleeding. My son gave me a reprieve for a couple of years and I thought, OK, I beat that, I’m good.
But then the heavy bleeding crept back into my life. I realized that I couldn’t go on living with it and I had to actively seek answers. I returned to the same practice where the male doctor had discharged me, though my instincts warned me otherwise. A new doctor there ordered my blood count and diagnosed me with iron deficiency anemia.
She told me I had a hemoglobin level of six, which indicates an extremely low red blood cell count. Normal hemoglobin levels in women are between 12 and 15.5. No wonder I was so exhausted! I started on iron supplements and changed my diet to include foods that are more iron-rich, like spinach and beets.
But this doctor still didn’t know what was causing my uterine bleeding, and she didn’t seem concerned about it. She kept checking for endometriosis and fibroids, but I only had one small fibroid, too small to be responsible for my excessive symptoms.
I kept thinking about whether to trust the medical professionals. But nothing they did changed the outcome. By then, the bleeding was so extreme that I feared I might die of bleeding in my bed.
Eventually I left this practice and went back to the pelvic surgeon I had seen before my pregnancy. He immediately sent me to the hospital for an outpatient test.
He said, “I am very concerned about what you shared – the extent of the distress and the bleeding. I think you have adenomyosis and we need to address it now.”
He told me that surgery was probably the only option. We have a laparoscopic hysterectomy scheduled for the next month. I’ll be honest: this operation was tough. At that point my anemia was severe. It took me months to recover, but I’m finally out of the woods.
This trip taught me that you must trust your instincts. You cannot rest until you find the right practitioners to listen to and take care of your health.
I’ve found that as women we don’t take the time to look after ourselves like we do with others. If my kids had the same symptoms as me or my husband, I wouldn’t let up for a minute. What if we gave ourselves the same attention and advocacy as we do our children?
I look back at what I’ve been through and feel relieved. I don’t have to change in my desk drawer. I am not worried about excessive bleeding or fatigue. I am not exhausted
I finally have clarity and am not afraid of the unknown.
This resource was created with the assistance of Daiichi Sankyo, Inc.