Experiencing life with Iron-Deficient Anemia is not easy, in fact, it’s a bit scary at times.
Almost a year ago now, in February of 2019, I was taken to the ER with symptoms of a heart attack. Turns out I was extremely low of red blood cells.
Yes, it’s true, if you are extremely anemic then you don’t have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to all of your vital organs. You can actually have a heart attack due to this condition.
I was admitted to the hospital to receive blood, and the search began to find the reason for my loss of blood.
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Experiencing Life With Iron-Deficient Anemia
First, let’s talk about what Iron-Deficient Anemia (IDA) actually is and some of the symptoms.
Basically IDA is a condition when your body does not have or absorb enough iron to produce red blood cells. Your body normally needs to continually make new red blood cells to replace the ones that die off every 100-120 days.
So in short, every organ and tissue in your body needs oxygen. Your body needs red blood cells to carry this oxygen from your lungs throughout your body.
Also, your body needs iron to reproduce the needed red blood cells. If you don’t have enough red blood cells then you are anemic.
You can lose blood and become anemic in different ways such as an injury, surgery, or internal bleed like an ulcer.
However, when you do not have enough red blood cells and become anemic due to the lack of enough iron in your body, then you are iron-deficient anemic.
Causes and Symptoms of IDA
IDA can be caused by 3 or 4 main ways. Either by not eating enough iron-rich foods, the body is not absorbing the iron, the body is losing iron through the blood, or pregnancy can lower the iron levels.
According to WebMD the following are conditions that can cause the body not to absorb iron.
Conditions like celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s disease can make it harder for your intestines to absorb iron. Surgery such as gastric bypass that removes part of your intestines, and medicines used to lower stomach acid can also affect your body’s ability to absorb iron.1
Symptoms of IDA
While iron-deficient anemia is still mild it may be unnoticeable. As it becomes more severe you may notice some of the following symptoms.
- Tiredness or weakness
- Pale or yellow skin
- Shortness of breath
- Fast heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Cold feet and hands
- Brittle, cracked nails and hair loss
- Pica (cravings for things that aren’t food, like dirt, starch, clay, or ice)
- Sore and swollen tongue
- Restless legs syndrome (an urge to move your legs while you’re in bed)
Because these can also be symptoms of other conditions, see your doctor to get a diagnosis.1
Searching for the cause of my anemia
I remained in the hospital for three days. There I received 3 pints of blood and my hemoglobin counts were back to almost normal.
The doctor released me from the hospital with follow up visits scheduled with my primary care doctor and my gastroenterologist.
Testing, probing, and prodding began. Searching for an answer to why I was losing blood. All of the doctors felt they would find an internal bleed.
My mom died from colon cancer. In the past, I’ve had colon polyps removed and did suffer from a bleeding ulcer at one time.
We all felt an internal bleed and possibly some polyps would be the culprit again. But not this time.
Discovering Iron-Deficient Anemia
A colonoscopy quickly ruled out any polyps or internal bleeds. But lab work just as quickly landed me with a diagnosis of iron-deficient anemia.
Not only was I anemic, but I had basically NO iron in my body! It seemed like an easy fix. The doctors put me on iron supplements.
A month later I go back in to re-check my labs to see if the supplements are helping. But no, they aren’t. At this point, I’m referred to a hematologist.
Also, I was sent back to the gastroenterologist for further testing of my digestive system. Looking for more answers as to why my small intestines were not absorbing the iron.
Treating Iron-Deficient Anemia
Since the oral iron supplements were not being absorbed, the hematologist recommended IV iron infusions.
Infusions were scheduled and started once a week for 5 weeks. All while going back and forth to the gastroenterologist for more and more testing.
Did I mention that during all this I had lost my appetite, was staying nauseous and lost 28 pounds in less than 5 months?
I was constantly feezing and could not get warm even during the summer months in Texas! I was exhausted all the time. I could barely stay awake only 3-4 hours at a time. Then I’d sleep 12-14 hours straight.
After the first round of infusions
Soon after completing the first round of the 5 weeks scheduled of iron infusions we re-checked my labs.
My hemoglobin and iron levels weren’t perfect, but they had improved. I continued with tests, waiting for results and was scheduled to re-check labs again in 6 weeks.
By the middle of September 2019, my hemoglobin and iron had tanked again. Another 5 weeks round of infusions were started.
Then came the results of abnormal findings from a pill cam test of my digestive tract.
Iron is absorbed in the small intestines
The abnormal findings turned out to be a small mass in the small intestines. Most normal colon scopes or EGD scopes do not go up or down far enough to reach the small intestines.
However, the pill cam is a small capsule with a camera inside it that you swallow. It then travels throughout your digestive tract taking pictures as it goes.
Now the gastroenterologist and the hematologist had a good idea as to the possible cause of why I was not absorbing iron. They suspected the mass to be cancerous from the picture on the scan.
Although they could not be certain without a closer look and a biopsy. So I was then referred to a specialist in Dallas, TX.
What happens next?
I first saw the specialist at the end of October 2019. He performed a double-balloon Enteroscopy EGD. From the pictures of the pill cam scan, he thought he could reach it from going down my throat. He could not.
However, he had not prepped me for the double-balloon colonoscopy so we had to schedule it at a later time.
I will be traveling to Dallas this week on January 8, 2019, to have this procedure done. Hopefully, I will finally have answers about this abnormal finding.
Living with Iron-deficient anemia
Iron-deficient anemia is treatable. Living with IDA is manageable with a little bit of adjusting and learning to cope.
True, I have to take naps and rest more than normal and I’m always cold! I crave ice and can’t stop chomping on it even when I’m freezing cold!
Although I still don’t have all the answers I’ve been searching and waiting for, I am still getting the iron infusions. I’m managing my anemia as best as possible.
While all of this is manageable and the iron-deficient anemia is treatable, the ideal outcome is to find the real problem that is the root cause of the IDA.
Hopefully, we can find the problem and fix it rather than having to continue treating the IDA. At least in my opinion that is the best-case scenario.
But I know whatever the outcome maybe, I will accept it with a smile and hope that my mess can become a message to someone else. My faith in God will bring me through whatever storm I am meant to pass through.
Now it’s your turn!
Leave me a comment! I love hearing from my readers! Tell me if you’ve had experience with iron-deficiency anemia.