My personal journey with iron deficiency anemia started in my late 30’s. I was a busy mom with two young children. Thinking back, I realize that the insidious nature of my symptoms went largely unnoticed at first. A wave of extreme fatigue would hit each day around two in the afternoon. I could literally feel my eyelids burn as they strained to meet each other in a bid for rest. Before I knew it I was taking long naps every afternoon just to get through the day.
Since I was approaching my 40’s, I initially assumed that my fatigue was a natural part of aging. It was just something I had to get used to. However, as the months progressed, I noticed that I was incrementally losing my desire and motivation to do activities I typically enjoyed. Yet, nothing in me signaled that something was amiss. I just settled in and accepted my new “normal”.
The turning point came when I began losing my hair. Of course we all experience hair fall on a daily basis, but I was soon noticing the sink fill every time I fixed my hair; not to mention the hair I was cleaning out of the tub drain.
Now, THIS new scenario had my full attention! I guess I can give a shout-out to vanity at this point. I was losing my hair and a lot of it and this was not ok. Of course, I did what we all do in cases like this; I went straight to my computer and typed in hair loss.
I should mention something very important at this stage. One might think that I coupled the terms fatigue and hair loss in my search; however, at the time I did not even remotely associate the two symptoms. Of course, this perfectly illustrates my mindset at the time. I had convinced myself that the fatigue was just commonplace for women once they reach a certain age. A decade down the road, I now realize that I was dead wrong.
[Tweet “I had convinced myself that the fatigue was just commonplace for women once they reach a certain age.]
After a thorough search I settled on a dermatologist as my first line of attack. This misstep would result in 6 more months of hair loss and worsening fatigue because the dermatologists had no idea what was wrong with me.
By this point I had lost about forty percent of my hair and I was becoming increasingly worried and discouraged. Then, I made the pivotal decision to give a general practitioner a try, which proved to be the right one.
Unlike the dermatologists who focused immediately on the symptom of hair loss, the general practitioner sat me down and asked a serious of probing questions about all facets of my life. Only then did it come out that I was also experiencing extreme fatigue.
Immediately, he asked if anyone had performed an iron study on my blood. Although the dermatologists had performed the standard blood tests to check my hemoglobin, they had never specifically ordered an iron study. Each time, I had been informed that my hemoglobin was slightly on the low side, but that this was typical for a large percentage of women.
So, an iron study was performed to check my iron storage levels and I ended up extremely low in iron. Basically, my iron levels had dropped so low that my body was diverting all remaining iron to my vital organs. Consequently, other areas, like my hair, were receiving no iron from the blood supply.
My iron levels were virtually non-existent. However, a typical blood test only showed my hemoglobin to be slightly low. I want to break down the iron study a little further.
There are specific blood tests that measure iron levels. These tests measure three different aspects of iron storage. They include:
Serum iron. This test measures the amount of iron in your blood. The level of iron in your blood may be normal even if the total amount of iron in your body is low. For this reason, other iron tests also are done.
Serum ferritin. Ferritin is a protein that helps store iron in your body. A measure of this protein helps your doctor find out how much of your body’s stored iron has been used.
Transferrin level, or total iron-binding capacity. Transferrin is a protein that carries iron in your blood. Total iron-binding capacity measures how much of the transferrin in your blood isn’t carrying iron. If you have iron-deficiency anemia, you’ll have a high level of transferrin that has no iron.
1. If you search iron deficiency anemia on the internet, you seldom read anything that associates hair loss to it. However, hair loss was most assuredly a symptom of my anemia. If you are experiencing hair loss coupled with extreme fatigue, you may want to probe this issue further with your physician. Once I started taking iron supplements, my hair started returning with my energy.
2. Most sites will say that a normal CBC blood test can detect iron deficiency anemia. However, my hemoglobin, while registering somewhat low, never raised any red flags for physicians before the iron study. I did find one report from the IBS institute that speaks to this possibility.
Anemia is a common blood disorder, which is either a decreased number of red blood cells (RBCs) and/or poorly formed red blood cells. There are many different types of anemia, the most common types being iron deficiency, vitamin B12 deficiency, and folic acid deficiency anemias. Iron deficiency anemia shows up on your Complete Blood Count (CBC) as a low RBC count, low hematocrit (Hct), or low hemoglobin (Hgb). However, low iron status will show up long before anemia if ferritin is measured. B12 and folic acid deficiency anemias show up as unusually large red blood cells.
3. Extreme fatigue should always raise red flags. There is a big difference between taking an occasional afternoon nap and having to sleep every afternoon just to get through the day.
Once your iron stores are depleted, it takes months to build them back to healthy levels again. I had routine iron studies done on my blood for several years after my diagnosis. But, my levels finally did rise and most of my hair grew back, though it will never be as thick as it once was.
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Hi Shellie, Thank you for the very informative posts. Almost the exact same thing happened to me, (within the last two years of turning 40) the fatigue for sure, and slight hair loss. Although my mother had suffered anemia, gave me insight for the fatigued. I would have never connected the two symptoms either. Again, thank you for reminding me, when I get tired, it’s not just because I’m getting older! =) It’s a pleasure co-hosting #omhgww with you! Have a beautiful week.
Thank you for the post Shellie, such an intersting read. I am sorry you are going through this.. My mum is suffering with the same problem too, and I have been told I need more iron in my diet too.. must take note!! Hope you have a lovely week, my pleasure co-hosting with you this week xx
Thanks Evija, I am glad to say it’s finally behind me.
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Great information. I would never have linked extreme fatigue and hair loss with anemia either. Thanks for sharing! ~Paula 🙂 #MidLifeLuv
Yes, you and many doctors, don’t make the link.
Health is so important, isn’t it, Shellie?
I have my blood checked every year. And I’m a pain in the back with doctors. I want to see everything! I feel they are generally more focused on treatment than prevention which is concerning.
I’m glad you got better.
Thanks Debbie, I am on information myself. I want to know what they are doing and why…then, I go home and research it on the internet!
Shellie, that sounds like it was pretty awful to go through. It just underlines that when something is obviously wrong, you may need to get a couple of opinions. Don’t just give up, keep searching and looking for answers. Thanks for sharing this as it will help others on Fridays Blog Booster Party #26
So true, I have really discovered that it is important to be your own health advocate. Thanks so much for featuring me this week in the Friday Blog Booster Party!!
Shellie – When I read your post the other day I could so relate to what you had gone through. I too suffered with anemia several years ago. Luckily it was caught early. Thank you for sharing at the Thursday Favorite Things Blog Hop. We love having you join us! Hope to see you back next week!
It was a tough road for a while, but I made it through with God’s help!
Excellent post! Anemia is not to be taken lightly. I’ve dealt with it too for years!
You are so right…it really knocked me for a loop!
Thanks for that article. It came at the time I am dealing with low iron also. My iron count is 8. How did you get yours back up?
Yes, mine was a 6. I am glad they caught it, Barbara. It took months of iron supplementation and regular monitoring. They also had to address heavy bleeding issues. I know that iron transfusion is available in the US, so that may be a good option for you.
Very interesting, as I have just visited the doctor for these exact symptoms along with some others I thought to be related to blood sugar, but my doctor was leaning more towards blood pressure. She ordered a full CBC plus vitamin D, iron, celiac, and something else. Rob was the first to suggest iron. I would’ve never gone that direction….
Hi Dawn, I hope they find some answers for you. Let me know what you find out.
So interesting…and sorry you had to go through that. As women we do find some sort of identity in our hair. My daughter’s friend (who was only 15) had this same issue except she lost so much of her hair they had to crop it like a boy cut. Thank goodness the iron therapy resolved the issue. This was a great article and is making me question my own constant fatigue.
Hi Sandra, it can really sneak up on you…I didn’t see it coming because it came on slowly.