Anemia – What I’m Learning, Part 2
This post will explain a handful of the common symptoms a lot of folks experience who are also anemic. Someone once said to me, “How could you not notice something wasn’t right?!” Well, read through the list – they all seem like very common ailments, don’t you think? I mean, if I went to the doctor every time I felt a little light-headed or tired, I’d be there all the darn time! All the things in bold are things I’ve experienced for so long I couldn’t even tell you when it started…things that I could easily attribute to other causes (out of shape, overweight, high blood pressure, etc)…and one is a bit TMI, so sorry in advance.
•Weakness and fatigue are the most common symptoms of anemia. Even iron deficiency without anemia can reduce working capacity in some people. (I attributed this to being really out of shape – it often feels like I’m carrying a really heavy back-pack or sacks of bricks. My legs and arms feel so heavy.)
•Shortness of breath on exertion (Again, thought I was just out of shape…)
•Rapid heartbeat (Didn’t happen all the time, but I’d get the weird fluttering…)
•Lightheadedness or dizziness (several times I’d get so dizzy the room would spin, especially during “that time”)
•Ringing in the ears (tinnitus) (I tried so hard to explain this one to people, but it just wasn’t making sense! It was like a very muffled constant throbbing noise in my ears…thought it was a sensitivity to the power substation across the street, or maybe high blood pressure)
•Irritability and other mood disturbances (Do I really need to elaborate on this one?!)
•Pale skin (however, healthy-looking skin color does not rule out anemia if a patient has risk factors and other symptoms of anemia) (…who goes to Florida and doesn’t at least get a little bit of sun? Uh, me.)
•Mental confusion (Constantly forgetting things; failing to remember to bring something to work, etc. No recollection of Chris telling me some things, when he swore up and down he had…)
So those seem like pretty ‘normal’ symptoms, right? Things that are common or well-known, and not embarrassing in the least…well let me change that for you.
•Pica. One odd symptom, which in some cases is also a cause of iron deficiency, is pica. This is the habit of eating unusual substances, such as ice (called pagophagia), clay, cardboard, foods that crunch (such as raw potatoes, carrots, or celery), or raw starch. The pica often stops, particularly in children, when iron supplements are given. Pica is difficult to detect because patients are often ashamed to admit to such cravings. (This. It is so weird, and sounds so crazy… I have no idea how else to describe it, but I would want to chew on the weirdest things!! Popsicle sticks, drinking straws, chewing gum, the really dense ice cubes like the ice machine downstairs, apples, carrots, broccoli, etc. Sometimes smells or textures trigger it – the smell/texture of pencils, lumber, etc… See, weird. Not something you really want to admit to a lot of people out of fear you’ll be committed.)
Pica. Many people attribute this to people with psychological disorders or mental illness, and is present in a lot of children. It ranges from just chewing on things like my case, or actually consuming the non-edible/non-nutritive substances like rocks, clay, chalk, soap, and many MANY other things. There is no known reason why this is a symptom of anemia – one theory is that it may have something to do with whatever minerals/vitamins the body is deficient (not sure how soap works into that). I am very lucky because my case is merely chewing on ‘normal’ things – drinking straws, wooden popsicle sticks, pen caps, etc. I never understood this – I thought it was something to do with my teeth or just an OCD trait, but it all makes sense now.
And get this – about the whole month prior, I’d eaten apples, carrots, and broccoli like crazy; my straws looked like a small puppy got a hold of them! Since I’ve started on the iron supplements and the Venofer infusions, I haven’t noticed nearly the impulse to chew on things! It just dawned on me today at lunch, as I was passing over the broccoli on the salad bar. It’s truly amazing there would be a connection to this!
So, as you can see – very common symptoms for a very common ailment, but one that can wreak havoc on your life if you don’t get it checked out! If you are extremely tired and lethargic feeling, talk to your doctor about it – don’t be afraid to ask about getting your iron levels checked or other blood work to narrow down the cause!