I am a healthy woman aged 35. My lifestyle is active than most Pakistani women of my age. I do exercise, frequent walks, I ride bike and do running sometimes. I am concerned about my health so I choose to eat healthy generally and some unhealthy options on weekends. Before reading this whole article, please make keep in mind that YOU CANNOT take iron supplements without a proper diagnosis because iron overdose can KILL YOU. Iron overdose is worst than iron deficiency and can be life threatening so first get your iron checked before making any self diagnosis.
I didn’t know iron was playing such an important role in my life and how an un-diagnosed iron deficiency has wasted an year of my life which I would have enjoyed otherwise. I will explain it how it all started to effect me to the best of my knowledge. I have divided it in stages on how it all happened to me.
Stage 1: Feeling tired generally
I don’t know when it started but almost an year ago, I started to feel lethargic, fatigued, less energetic and weak. I started having muscle aches, my knees started to hurt every once in a while and my back pain was worst. I don’t get sick easily because I am careful about my hygiene but I started to get few episodes of sore throat and flu. I do not ignore such things, I always listen to my body and I take care of myself. I have started to feel worried about my situation and discussed with my family and friends but they all thought I might be stressed out. Being tired is too generalized and sometimes always ignored because of our busy life styles but if you are tired for too long, please do not ignore it and get it check. Read my story till the end and you will know what I mean.
I was visiting Pakistan, I went to my old doctor to discuss this. He did not suggest any tests and straight away prescribed me calcium and vitamin D and thought it might be the vitamin D deficiency that might be causing this. I have started taking the Calcium supplements and started drinking Vitamin D injections as prescribed by the doctor. I wasn’t satisfied with his diagnosis and thought to get routine blood tests to be sure if everything is fine. I did the following tests on my own.
- Blood Glucose
- CBC (complete blood count)
- Lipid profile (Cholesterol and triglycerides )
- Renal function tests
- Hepatitis tests
To my surprise and happiness everything was perfectly normal and it raised no alarms. I thought I might be taking it too serious and may be since I am getting old I was feeling tired.
Stage 2: Symptoms got worst, more symptoms and viral infections
I continued to have these symptoms in my normal routine
- Muscle aches and back pain
- Cold hands and feet that even used to turn blue in sever cold.
- Feeling cold all the time even in moderate weather, burring myself under extra blankets before sleep.
- Poor work productivity
- Poor attention to my work , I couldn’t focus properly on anything
- Apathy – lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern
- Poor memory, often forgetting even while talking about it
- Poor learning and understanding, had to repeat things again and again
- Tired eyes and dark circles
- Discolored nails
- Extreme hair loss and dry hair
- Very frequent mouth ulcers and cold sores on my lips
- Restless legs
Note: If you are iron deficient you might not experience all of the above symptoms and these symptoms can be associated with something else as well. Everyone must get their tests first before assuming anything or taking any medication.
Viral infections took a toll on my health as I started to get really bad throat, cold and flu along with fever which when started used to last over a week and sometimes over a month. The sore throat was usually upper respiratory infection and I wasn’t able to eat anything as my throat used to hurt so bad. I always had to take antibiotics to cure that type of infection. I remember once my throat took 2 months to get better because one of the doctor gave me wrong antibiotics.
Stage 3: Breathlessness, chest tightness
After ignoring my symptoms for few more months and suffering my quality of life, I have started to experience suffocation and chest tightness.
- I was feeling breathless after climbing the stairs and my heart would pound. I thought I was climbing the stairs too fast and slowed my pace but it didn’t help me much.\
- I have started feeling suffocated in the car traveling long distances. I felt if I didn’t have enough air to breath, I would turn the fresh air on or open the window which would help a little bit but not much and traveling was getting tougher on me.
Failure to reduce weight:
I am slightly overweight according to my BMI and wanted to reduce 7kg to be in the healthy weight range. I reduced my dietary intake by eating clean and exercising for 30 minutes or a walk for 40 minutes. Normally with this routine I would loose 1kg in a month but nothing worked. I lost my apatite as if my metabolism was too slow. After exercise I used to get too exhausted but I kept on going but my weight didn’t reduce even a tiny bit which made me too frustrated.
Stage 4: Negative feelings, sleepless nights, anxiety and depression
Those who know me knows that I am a very positive person and always look at the brighter side but I started to feel negative and the negative thoughts would not leave my mind. I wouldn’t say anything negative to anyone but I had uncomfortable feelings, I was nervous, irritable and always worried that something bad is going to happen in the future like someone will harm me, someone will do something bad with me, it was all a mess. I believed that people were against me, I am worthless and nobody wants to be with me.
I started getting anxious with these negative feelings and used to lose my breath, sometimes, I wasn’t able to speak as I couldn’t catch my breath.
I have started to feel extremely helpless because it was a very uncomfortable situation when you try to catch your breath and I often started to cry that why this was happening to me. No one made any difference, no company was good enough to keep me out of the dark, not my parents, siblings or friends. It was like all the happiness around me was sucked out of me. I used to enjoy small details of life but was unable to enjoy even the bigger pleasures of life like traveling to heavenly places.
How was I diagnosed?
One day I was talking to my friends and after serving desserts I felt breathless, I silently sat there and suddenly realized one of my friend was a psychiatrist. I’ve asked her if she could give me some sort of antidepressant or something that can help me sleep as I was loosing my mind. She asked me if I’ve got my tests as I could have Anemia? I told her that I’ve got my CBC and my hemoglobin was normal so it is definitely not anemia. My friend suggested that it could be iron deficiency only and explained.
Is anemia different than iron deficiency?
I didn’t know these are two different things and hemoglobin alone can’t determine that you have iron deficiency although most breathlessness cases in women are due to anemia which also happens in sever iron deficiency however you can have iron deficiency and your hemoglobin can still be normal. Sometimes you do need a doctor to explain these things.
I have visited the GP (General Physician – outside Pakistan) and told him about the discussion with my friend and what she has suggested. I have also shown him my test results. He immediately took my blood samples and said he will get these tests.
- TIBC (Total iron binding capacity)
- Ferratin (related to iron)
- Vitamin D
- Immunity test
Doctor told me that my vitamin D and Thyroid was good but my iron and Ferratin was too low that it was worrisome. Because of iron my immunity was too low that if someone sneezed in another room I will get sick but he explained it will get normal once my iron was restored.
I was shocked and asked him, “was it all because of iron? my health, the fatigue, anxiety, my hair” doctor explained that iron is the pillar of the body and if the whole pillar is weak, you can’t function normally, it effects the whole body.
My next question was “Is it treatable, will I get better?”
Doctor explained YES and wrote a prescription with heavy doses of iron supplements for 3 months and asked me to get another test after 3 months.
Progress after 1 month of taking iron:
The first month was during Ramadan so I was generally feeling weak and couldn’t tell if the iron was making any difference however the noticeable thing was the reduced spells of shortness of breath.
Progress after 2 month of taking iron:
- My shortness of breath was much less
- Less negative thoughts
- I felt little more energetic.
- I felt so happy that I was waking up with less back pain and was feeling more fresh and active in the morning.
- I could work for longer hours and still feel fresh physically and mentally.
- I felt more motivated to walk and exercise without any lethargy.
- I was still not feeling very hungry.
Progress after 3 month of taking iron:
- My anxiety/breathlessness was almost over.
- I felt a bit of elevated heartbeat when I climbed stairs.
- I started to feel hungry again and continued my healthy routine but this time added more fruits, red meat (for iron), nuts and vegetables in it.
- Some negative thoughts were still around but very few.
Repeat test after 3 month of taking iron:
I have again got my iron tested after taking iron supplements for 3 months. My iron deficiency was gone, doctor was very happy with the results, he asked me to continue a low dose of iron and advised me to eat meat and leafy vegetables so my diet also contains iron. How am I feeling now after an year?
Progress after 1 year:
- No breathlessness, my shortness of breath issue is completely resolved.
- I feel fine while climbing stairs, as my friend says, I fly up and down the stairs.
- Negative feelings are completely gone, anxiety issue is completely resolved.
- I am not feeling tired all the time, my hands and feet aren’t that cold now.
- I do not feel cold as much as I did before.
- To my surprise my back pain issue is resolved as well, I thought it was due to poor posture and bad mattress but this might also been connected to low iron.
I am back to life now, feeling fine, normal, healthy and hearty. When I think about it today, I feel so horrified that a simple thing called iron deficiency can take your life away. You feel helpless, hopeless and tired all the time.
Diet/Lifestyle Modification after this episode:
- I used to avoid red meat to stay healthy but now I eat red meat at-least once a week.
- I eat a lot of vegetables and add spinach to me food very often.
- I still take low dose iron supplements because at this age with monthly cycle we loose blood and sometimes our body doesn’t make it back before the next cycle. That has happened to me and gradually my iron stores were consumed making me iron deficient.
I have verbally shared this info with many of my friends and family and glad this info has helped some of them exactly the same way so I thought to share it online.
Thanks for reading.