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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