Lifestyle

Blood and my iron deficiency

Recently I learned that I had an iron deficiency so severe that my doctor said she was astounded I was conscious.

It was serendipitous that I met a woman who is studying iron levels in women as part of her PhD studies. She asked me if I would take part. It was easy. I would need to answer questions and give a blood sample. I said yes. The results were a shocker.
 
Iron is essential for blood production. It’s in the red blood cells of your blood called haemoglobin. Haemoglobin carries oxygen in your blood from the lungs to the tissues. Iron deficiency can lead to anaemia. A normal range of ferritin (F), which is the level of iron stores in your body, is 15-165. Mine was 1.
Chart of the spectrum of iron deficiency.
 
My acquaintance called me on Sunday afternoon and said I should see a doctor as soon as possible. She emailed me the test results and told me to have steak for dinner.
 
The next morning, my GP took one look at the test results and sent me to Mercy Hospital for Women. They saw me right away.
 
The likely cause of my iron deficiency is menorrhagia. Twenty-six years of heavy and prolonged menstrual bleeding has depleted my iron stores. The hospital doctor said that if her F dropped to 1, she would get dizzy, pass out, and need a blood transfusion. I’ve been experiencing this so long that it had become my normal. It’s fascinating how the body adapts, but it’s not normal, and we needed to fix it.
 
A second blood test confirmed the original results. On Friday, I was back in the hospital for an iron infusion. Replenishing my iron levels is one step. Keeping them up is another and that requires controlling my menstrual bleeding. For a while, I’ll be taking iron supplements as well as pills with Tranexamic acid. This is for the treatment or prevention of excessive blood loss during surgery. I’ll also switch from oral contraception to the IUS (it’s like the IUD) and that should curb my bleeding over time.
 
Medicare covers all these doctor visits and procedures. I have to pay for the prescriptions. They are inexpensive because they are government subsidised.
 
As an American, it’s mind-boggling. When I lived in the US, I was uninsured for years despite being a full-time employee. For years, I complained to my various doctors about my heavy period. They all told me I was within the normal range, albeit at the heavier end. Not one of them tested my iron.
 
In June 2013, I had the medical assessment required for visa applications. Did the results show I had a severe iron deficiency? I don’t know. At the time, Medibank mailed the results in a sealed envelope and prohibited you from opening it. You had to forward it to Immigration along with the rest of your visa paperwork.
 
Last week, I called Medibank and requested a copy of my medical report. The process is now computerised, but they didn’t keep hard records back then. “Back then” as if it were a decade ago instead of last year. So, I’m out of luck. It bothers me still that I wasn’t informed of a potentially life threatening problem.
 
For me, the story ends well. I’m going back back to the hospital soon to have the IUS inserted. I’ll also have a hysteroscopy to make sure everything is okay in there. The doctors and nurses tell me I will feel like a new person in a few weeks when my iron levels are normal.

Comments

comments

  • Perhaps the iron was depleted as a result of you being a magnetic personality Cosette? I’m glad to hear you’ll soon be on the road to recovery with perhaps a new sense of energy.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • Cosette Paneque

      Haha! Thank you!

  • That’s shocking!
    You must be very fit, and have very effective heart and lungs to be coping with such low levels.
    My hemoglobin used to drop with great regularity when I used an IUD, but maybe these days they don’t cause such problems. I used to keep tabs on my levels by donating blood because they’d always check my levels before accepting a donation. However, I wouldn’t recommend that for you! I’m sure your doctor will keep a very close watch on yours from now on.
    And, they’re right – you won’t know yourself when they get those levels up again. If I was Theo, I’d be worried! 🙂

    • Cosette Paneque

      It makes me wonder if there are parts of my body that have been working extra hard to cope with the iron deficiency. I’m glad it’s being taken care of. I plan to be bouncing off the walls in a few weeks.

  • Jennifer

    Hi! I have the same problem. I tried donating blood and when my iron came back low, they checked my ferritin and it came back at a 4. I was put on iron supplements for a month and was rechecked and they came back up. Just got my blood checked again, levels are low again. I’m very interested in your treatment plan and to see if you feel better after everything! I hope so!

    • Cosette Paneque

      Thanks, Jennifer. I’ll keep you posted. You might want to press your doctor more and see if you can discover the cause of your iron depletion. In my case since it’s caused by heavy menstrual bleeding, I have to get that under control. Getting my levels up is one thing, but it will be pointless if my period depletes me every month.

  • How lucky that you were invited into that study and caught this, though disturbing that it was never picked up before. Isn’t Medicare amazing? I was like you in the States – employed but un or underinsured for my entire adult life before coming here. My daughter has had a number of health issues (all minor and resolved, thankfully!) that have required so many doctor visits. We’ve never seen a bill. I am beyond thankful.

    • Cosette Paneque

      Me too. Medicare is a huge burden on the budget, but I think it’s well worth it.

  • Glad to hear you are being treated albeit ‘serendipitously’, as you point out. We are back in the U.S. now (Hawaii) and I cannot tell you how much I miss Australian Medicare. People down there often complain about it, I never could see the reason for that. The Australian health care system worked beautifully for my family. We were hospitalized several times for various issues – one I.C.U. hospital stay of three days cost us absolutely nothing. I am not sure how Obama care is working, but i do know that I tried to get health insurance when we first got back (May 13′) and because I was in a ‘gap’ age bracket with no employer – I had to wait until age 65 (July 9, 2014) until I could get medical coverage at a reasonable rate. Prior to this month, I would have been looking at premiums of almost $1,000.00 per month. As it currently stands, with me now being eligible, my husband and I are paying $315.00 per month ($3,780 per annum) for premiums, PLUS quite large co-payments for services – too complex to detail here. This premium represents a similar Medicare Levy that we were paying when my husband was a high wage earner in Australia (Dentist). Once he cut his hours back, we were then paying about $2,000.00 per annum in our taxes. We are now on a fixed income: American Social Security and are having to pay out as much as we did when times were good. Yes, it’s our own fault – don’t ask why we came back to America – you’d be bored to tears. But, I do have to say that when I defend Australian Health Care here, I am often met with hostile opposition, including ignorant statements about queues and ‘baby killers’. Americans perceive anything to do with their perception of ‘Socialism’ as encroachment upon their civil rights. Many have little understanding of how other countries work and believe theirs to be the best. I’ve always said America could learn a lot from the Australian health care system as well as that of Canada and New Zealand.

    • Cosette Paneque

      Yes, the response to universal health care in the USA is bizarre to me. Americans tend to place the needs of the individual over those of the community. Bootstrapping is an important value to Americans. Still, I’m glad to see that there is a lot of support for Obamacare and I hope it comes together well.

  • An eye-opening post for sure. While I haven’t yet established any firm opinions about Obamacare, I do know that for the last several years I have had to take more of an active role in my health care as overworked physicians and their staff have dropped the ball on me time and again. I’m really glad to hear that you finally have a correct diagnosis and will be on the road to recovery. Amazing and scary that all this wasn’t caught years ago.

    • Cosette Paneque

      Thanks! I’m sorry to hear you are overworked. I find that people in the health care industry often are. They work very hard and long hours.

  • Oh my gosh, that actually sounds kind of scary! I think I would be in the hospital with a blood transfusion. While I do like the doctors I have in the States, sometimes I just feel like another number and not an actual person with health issues. They write a prescription and wave me away, assuring everything is “normal” only for me to come back a few months later with the same issues.

    They seem to be more personable in Australia and actually willing to help you out. I’m glad your iron levels are back on track.

    • Cosette Paneque

      Yeah, I have received better care in the last few weeks here in Oz than I have ever in the States.