NB: This post was edited for greater medical accuracy on February 16/16 upon receiving feedback from another OB/GYN who is not treating me directly, but who kindly agreed to review the post. I am grateful for her expertise. As always, all mistakes are my own.
If you are a female human, there is a 40% chance you will be iron deficient at some point in your lifetime. Men, about a 10% chance.
Iron deficiency (ID) is the most prevalent micro nutrient deficiency disorder in the world.
Now, for most of us, we think – okay – so with low iron I feel tired and I can’t donate blood. So what?
Iron deficiency (more specifically, haemoglobin deficiency) decreases blood oxygen-carrying capacity. Who cares, right?
Iron is critical for producing haemoglobin, a protein that helps red blood cells deliver oxygen throughout your body.
I want to tell you my story. Because I truly believed that monitoring my iron (therefore my haemoglobin) saved my life.
For adult women, normal haemoglobin is 120-160.
I have been iron deficient on and off for most of my adult life. I have been permitted to donate blood exactly twice, despite trying several times each year. My counts have generally hovered around the 120 mark – never low enough for my doctor to tell me that I had a problem, but too low to be considered healthy enough to donate the .5 L or 1/10 of my blood stores to help others.
Last summer, I was experiencing fatigue from high volumes of triathlon training. This is super common, but my coach, Sara, suggested that I start on iron supplements and have my doctor monitor my iron levels.
When I started taking iron supplements in August, my haemoglobin was under 120. Within 3 weeks, it climbed to 124.
The day before surgery, my haemoglobin was 137 – up roughly 20 points in 6 months, and indicating that the supplements were working well.
Then I went for surgery.
My haemoglobin bottomed out at 94.
I lost roughly 1.5L of blood; 1L is considered an emergency.
My doctor was considering taking me back in for surgery and / or a blood transfusion. Both procedures included additional risks and setbacks.
He ended up waiting it out, and within a day and a half my numbers started climbing again.
Which is fabulous, but it makes me ask – what would have happened if I never started taking iron?
What would have happened if I went into surgery with a haemoglobin of 120 instead of 137?
Because you never know when you’re going to need surgery, or (God forbid!) injure yourself.
You never know when you will need that little bit extra.
I’m not a doctor, and I will not dispense medical advice. I won’t tell you to take an iron supplement.
But if you’ve never had your iron checked, I encourage you to do so. Talk to a doctor. Find out what’s healthy for you.
In this case, an ounce of prevention really was worth a pound of cure.
I am super grateful to Sara who insisted that I get checked. I am lucky.
Rant over 🙂