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Blood Tests & Iron Levels

Posted Feb 27 2014 3:48pm

This is one of those posts that I’ve thought about in my head for a while but haven’t figured out how to put “pen to paper” or “fingers to keyboard.”

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No one likes being sick. But, what I find to be even worse than being sick is being sick when no one, including doctors and nurses, can figure out why you’re sick. I’ve watched as friends and acquaintances have shared their stories online as they stay strong and fight through ailments like injuries, migraines, cancer, and Crohn’s Disease . Trust me, what I’m going to share with you today does not nearly compare to what many of them are battling. But, in order to be honest with readers, I wanted to share what I’m going through as it will explain a few things you’ve been seeing such as a HUGE increase in meat, carbs, sleep, and a few tough workouts.

In December, when Bo and I were home in Savannah for Christmas we both fell ill with what was first affectionately deemed the London hack before it evolved into full blown flu and then bronchitis. 2013-12-26 13.45.52-2

I went to the doctor in hopes of kicking the illness as fast as possible as we had lots of family in town for the holidays and I had no desire to spend the week in bed. While at the doctor’s office, they took advantage of the fact that I was home in the states and decided to do a thorough physical including a body exam, blood test and urine analysis. Luckily the body exam nor urine analysis showed anything odd. But, the blood test was a whole different hot mess.

In fact, the blood test for the “healthy 30 year old” who called herself active on the physical questionnaire came back so skewed that in the course of one week I had 3 blood tests. According to the results, my iron, saturation and ferritin levels were beyond low. In fact, they were extremely low and should result in a lethargic almost listless human.  Normal iron levels are 4.4 – 35.6 but mine were between 2.9-3.1.

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My doctor immediately recommended that I start taking over the counter iron pills as well as trying to incorporate more iron rich foods into my diet. Some of these are harder to incorporate than others but over the past two months I’ve included almonds, dried apricots, eggs, and either chicken, beef or sardines in my diet daily. I’ve also started topping my lunch salad with tuna and lentils as both are offered on our salad bar each day.

After the combination of iron supplements and a more iron rich diet I hoped that I’d get a clean bill of health last week when I went to my doctor in Geneva. Unfortunately after taking 8 tubes of blood in order to do a very, very thorough blood test which included cholesterol and celiac, the results came back even worse than December. The good news is that I don’t have Celiac disease, I finally know my blood type (O negative) and I don’t have high cholesterol. But, the bad news is that my body still isn’t absorbing any of the iron and to make matters worse, I’m starting to feel some of the symptoms of anemia and low iron. For the next 6 weeks my Swiss doctor has me on a regimen of prescription iron taken daily with OJ along with increasing the iron rich foods.

While I am not necessarily lethargic, my body has been needing more than the normal 6 hours of sleep. Morning workouts are near impossible unless I get at least 7 hours of sleep and I’m finding myself craving sweets and carbohydrates in a crazy way. In addition to this, over the past few weeks I’ve started showing a few other symptoms:

  • cracks near the lips
  • insomnia
  • pale skin (that could be due to lack of Vitamin D)
  • high heartbeat when doing exercises which aren’t too strenuous
  • difficulty concentrating
  • shortness of breath or fatigue when exercising

This weekend’s half marathon was a perfect example of my iron deficiency. If you look at the training runs I did complete prior to the half, I should have been able to maintain a steady pace of closer to a 9:45. Instead, during the race I continuously became short of breath and asked Charlie to stop a few times so I could catch my breath and stretch. I may not have been in PR shape but I should be able to run this distance comfortably. At work, in our open desk area where no one has privacy or peace and tranquility, I’ve found it harder to focus on the task at hand. This week I’ve spent a large amount of time in huddle rooms so I can work in complete quiet and stay focused. Last night, I was up 4 times during the night and unable to fall asleep until 2 hours after I went to bed.

Trust me, I know there are people out there who are fighting far larger evils and far more ill than I am. But, it’s super frustrating that after four doctor’s appointments in 2 months nothing is working and I have to wait four more weeks before I can go to a hematologist for further testing. I just want to be back to normal.

In the meantime, I am not going to stop training, running or working long hours. What I am doing is trying to work smarter and more efficiently. Gia and I have put a PR training plan in place for the Geneva Half marathon which includes workouts which each have a serious purpose. I may only run four times a week but each run is for either speed, distance, hills, or steady state long run. In addition, I’m spending more time in the goal pace range than ever before. I am doing my best to get the sleep I need and I’m willing to be smart if I have a night of insomnia. Today I wanted nothing more than to get out on the trail with Renaud but I knew my body need a massage, yoga and rest after just a few hours of sleep last night. I’m not invincible and I’m not wonder woman.

You know what’s even cuter? The fact that my husband put an Outlook calendar invite on my work calendar which is titled Iron and is a recurring invite each day. My parents and Bo have been amazing the past few months whether to hug me when I’m weak, force feed me red meat, remind me take my iron pills, or tell me to take it easy when I’m tired.

So what does this mean for you guys? Hopefully, it means nothing. I’m not taking prescription strength iron each morning with freshly squeezed orange juice as vitamin C is supposed to help my body absorb the iron. However, if you follow me on Instagram you’ll see lots of red meat in my dinner pictures as each weekend I’m trying to enjoy at least two beef rich meals.

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