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HEALTH WATCH : Women Need Iron to Ward Off Anemia

January 18, 1994

Menstrual cycles, pregnancy and birth control can all contribute to anemia--which many American women teeter on the brink of every month.

Because their iron intake is borderline or worse and their body stores of iron are low, the blood lost during each period can be enough to make women anemic.

A typical 120-pound woman has 3 to 3.5 grams of iron in her body, 70% of it in oxygen-carrying hemoglobin molecules in red blood cells. The remaining 0.8 to 1 gram (800 to 1,000 milligrams) is stored in various body tissues.

The recommended daily allowance of iron for women is 18 milligrams. Most women get just barely that amount in their diets, offset by some normal daily losses of iron.

Under normal circumstances, a woman loses about half a milligram of iron a day during a three- to five-day menstrual period.

Pregnancy may also lead to anemia. About 1 gram of iron is transferred to the fetus and the placenta during pregnancy, and this loss to the mother must be made up. A multivitamin supplement that includes iron may be recommended during pregnancy.

The symptoms of anemia include fatigue, listlessness, mood changes, loss of the ability to concentrate and pallor of the skin. The number of red blood cells is reduced and their appearance is abnormal.

Some methods of birth control can influence iron levels. Contraceptive pills reduce blood loss during menstruation, while intrauterine devices can cause minor bleeding that increases blood loss.

Check It Out: How can you check out the background of your physician? Here are some suggestions from consumer and medical groups:

* Consult the American Medical Directory, published by the American Medical Assn., and the Directory of Medical Specialists. Both are available in public libraries.

* The AMA maintains a Physician Master File that tracks doctors in medical school and independently verifies their credentials. The file also contains state disciplinary action reports. Data can be obtained by mail only. For information, write to AMA, 515 N. State St., Chicago, Ill. 60610.

* To find out if a doctor is board-certified, call the American Board of Medical Specialties at (800) 776-2378. (The AMA master file will also tell you this.)

* Call the state medical board. In some states, be prepared to make many calls. Most boards are understaffed and it can take many attempts just to get through.

* Check the courts. This may yield information on malpractice suits, but it is time-consuming and may provide an incomplete picture. If a hospital has been sued along with a doctor, the lawsuit may be filed under the institution's name, not the doctor's. In some cases, particularly those in which doctors and/or hospitals have made large payments, files have been sealed by court order.

This health roundup, compiled from wire-service reports, appears in View on Tuesdays.

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