My experience with iron-deficiency anaemia (And why you should take anaemia seriously)

I was first told I had low-iron levels in my mid-teens. I wasn’t worried, in fact I thought this was pretty normal and nothing to worry about, after all, I had heard that 1 in 5 women had low iron levels and they all seemed pretty fine.

Over the years I quit vegetarianism but continued to struggle with fatigue and other symptoms that I did not immediately recognise were signs of iron-deficiency anaemia – I was constantly cold and unable to retain warmth, I was weak, getting short of breath from the smallest amount of exercise, I fainted or came close to fainting more times than I can count, – once in front of my entire class. Luckily my teacher caught me.

In late 2013 I felt so weak that walking became difficult. My legs and arms felt so heavy that just trying to put one foot in front of the other was exhausting and the effort made me want to cry because it had become so difficult. A one mile all round trip to the shop and back left me completely wiped out and needing to lay down for at least one hour if not two, I was so exhausted. I was used to feeling unwell due to various health issues but this was getting out of hand. Too ill to work, I quit and saw my doctor who ran blood tests which revealed my low iron levels. I was put on high dose tablets containing fourteen times the recommended daily allowance. After a couple of weeks on the tablets I began to feel better and better.

But it was still a few more years before I finally took my anaemia seriously. For those years I would haphazardly take my iron medication, only maybe finishing half of a course, skipping days here and there, only taking one pill a day instead of three. Although I felt better after a few weeks I eventually fell into a cycle of taking the pills for a few weeks and feeling a bit better before coming off them and starting to feel very unwell again within the space of a couple of months and getting a new prescription.

In early 2016 I finally realised I was tired of this cycle and spoke with my doctor. We agreed that I should probably take a regular iron supplement everyday on a more permanent basis once I had finished my latest course of iron tablets. This would get me off the cycle of coming off the high-dose iron tablets and then progressively becoming weaker over the period of a few weeks or months until I was ill enough to warrant a new round of treatment.

Since then I haven’t taken an iron pill every single day, I’m still human and I’m not perfect, but I have taken an iron pill most days and I recognise that with heavy periods and a history of anaemia behind me that it is something I do need to be doing. I finally take my anaemia seriously and I’m reaping the benefits of it. I feel warmer than I have done in years, my arms and legs ache far less than they used to and less and less frequently do the words ‘I’m tired’ fall out of my mouth.

Yet at the same time I’m saddened that anaemia is trivialised quite a lot and almost made out to be just part of being a woman rather than a deficiency which needs to be treated. If I had thought anaemia was a condition which needed to be taken seriously I might not have become so unwell before seeking treatment, and also taken my treatment more seriously, instead I learnt the hard way. I’m glad that I now take it seriously and no longer struggle to walk to the corner shop and back!

Do you have anaemia? How was your experience?

If you would like more information on iron deficiency and anaemia, I highly recommend this website: http://www.getyourironup.org/