Always The Same Response
“I’m 17 at my yearly check up and my doctor tells me my iron is low. ‘It’s normal,’ she tells me, once a young woman starts her cycle. ‘No worries,’ I’m told. The doctor gives me a print out of iron rich foods to consume and sends me on my way.
A year or so later it’s the same, so I’m given an oral iron supplement that affects my digestive track and ultimately does not absorb well enough to give me the boost of iron I need, as evidenced by my bloodwork.
Then, pregnancy. I’m pregnant with my first child, and again with the three following, my iron levels are considered ‘low,’ but I’m told, ‘This is normal.’ The advice…? To take my prenatal pills. Then I’m given a similar nutrition handout with iron rich foods.
Every annual physical and every annual OB/GYN appointment for 25 years!
Yes, for 25 years, I had low iron. This SOMETIMES shows when you get a CBC (complete blood count), which is essentially a very high level overview of your health and systems. My hemoglobin and hematocrit were always lower than the normal range, but not ‘low enough’ for alarm.
After so many years of hearing this, with no real regimen, you start to think it’s not really a big deal… until it is!
More Drastic Symptoms
Raising kids and taking care of a family is exhausting, no question, so when my fatigue took a noticeable dive after 35, I had so many legitimate excuses for it. (My husband is deployed, my kids are small, I just finished another degree, I was working long shifts, etc.) While I was definitely using what energy I did have to do all of the things, that fatigue was more.
- Weight fluctuations
- Muscle aches/pains (mostly in my legs)
- Heavy eyes
- Increased anxiety
- Slightly breathless at times
- Fatigue so intense I could not move some days
- Digestive issues
I was certain there was something severely wrong with me. I was desperate for answers. On top of my primary doctors, I saw a rheumatologist, an allergist, a gastroenterologist, and no one found anything. While that’s good, it was also confusing. Frustrating is an understatement. ‘I know my body,’ I kept telling them. ‘Something is not right!’
Finally Receiving A Diagnosis
Then, two years ago, my GYN finally said, ‘I’m going to send you to a hematologist at the cancer center next door. We need to get to the bottom of this.’ I was scared and hopeful at the same time. Could I have some blood disorder I never knew about? I had a FULL iron panel that included many more detailed labs than just a CBC, some of which were:
- Iron binding capacity
- Iron saturation %
- Actual iron
On top of the low levels we knew of, I was also found to have a ferritin level of 2. This is almost non existent, y’all. Ferritin, if you don’t know, is your stores of iron, so when you lose iron naturally through the loss of blood, your stores replenish it for you. I had no stores. My suitcase, if you will, was empty. I was then officially diagnosed with ‘iron deficiency anemia,’ likely from heavy consistent menstrual cycles.
Iron Infusion Treatments
So now, I get to come sit in a big comfy chair every few months with a nice warm blanket, and get iron infusion treatments. I’m here for roughly an hour to an hour and a half and they infuse iron directly into my bloodstream. In a week or so I will usually feel like a new woman. Exhaustion be gone!
I can now feel when my iron is starting to get low because I also know what it feels like after it’s been boosted. This usually helps me stay on top of appointments and infusions so I hopefully never get as low as I was when I started.
So friends, what I learned through this experience is simple, and I pass that onto anyone who may be feeling ‘off,’ ‘wonky,’ ‘super tired,’ or ‘just not right.’
- ‘Normal’ and ‘common’ are NOT the same, even though they are many times used interchangeably, even by providers.
- Please do not dismiss fatigue as simply part of busy life. I am not saying all fatigue or symptoms are iron related, but it could be, and we know our body best. Speak until someone listens!
- Most importantly, don’t give up on you! Even if it takes 25 years, there’s an answer somewhere and you are worth the research.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tia Hawkins from Virginia Beach, VA. You can follow her journey on Facebook, Instagram and her blog. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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