Low Iron Treatment

Disclaimer: What I’m talking about today is what my GP, dietitian and I decided would be the best course of action for my treatment of low iron. I’m not a doctor and highly encourage you to consult with a qualified health professional when you have any concerns about any aspect of your health.

 

So why am I writing this if I’m not a health professional? Because blogs are great for learning from personal experiences!

 

Low Iron Treatment

 

My Type of Low Iron

First things first: low iron is complicated. You’ve probably heard of anemia. I don’t have that. What I am low on is iron stores, called ferritin, which is measured by a basic blood test. Based on a history of blood tests my current GP printed for me, I’ve bounced around under to barely over the line of acceptable ranges for about two years. From my own googling-to-try-and-understand online, acceptable levels vary between country and lab. It’s really, really something you need to address with a medical professional, if for that reason alone!

 

Noticing Low Iron

We’re all tired. We’re all busy. So how do you know what’s “normal” tired and what’s an indication of a problem? For me, it comes down to that I heal well. I had low iron stores at the start of 2015 as well. My then GP ordered general blood test as I couldn’t get over a chest infection. Ah, there it was, low iron. In 2016 I injured my shoulder, then my ankle soon after. I was seeing a physio to assist in the healing of my ankle but the swelling didn’t really go away. Weird. My GP was doing a blood test, but I can’t quite remember what for. I think I was complaining about general tiredness and not healing after injury. What came back but low iron stores. I said that I had been going ok at work until about midday, and after that I became useless. My GP said something like “well yeah, you have no energy!”. Fair enough 🙂

 

I can’t tell you how you will notice if you are low on iron. I think being proactive with your health in any area means knowing what is normal for you and what isn’t. Of course, a good GP is also a massive help. And you’re always allowed a second opinion.

 

Low Iron Treatment

 

Medical Treatments

I’m on two what I am calling “medical treatments” (because they were chosen by my GP and I) for low iron levels.

 

One is iron supplements. In a world of over the counter vitamins and essential oils and DIY self care, iron is not one to fuck around with. From what (little) I understand, taking iron when you are not low on it can have some very serious side effects. Do not self-diagnose low iron and start taking supplements, most especially as a simple blood test will give you accurate information. In 2015 when I was low on iron I took any old supplement. This time my GP recommended one that is still over the counter, but stronger. It’s really common and called FerroGrad. I get the ones with vitamin C in it as this assists iron absorption. Initially I got them without vitamin C as I had a good stock of those tablets at home, but swapped when I ran out. Follow the dose your GP gives you. Mine is different to what is on the bottle.

 

In discussing the supplement options, we decided that iron tablets were the best choice for my situation. The other options we discussed were injections (in the bum!) and infusions. Due to the risk of side effects, we decided against those two options. I had never heard of the side effects (which I understand to be rare, but possibly serious) of injections and infusions before so I’m grateful to my GP for informing me and talking through the pros and cons of them.

 

The other is the contraceptive pill. My GP advised me to skip periods for four months as a boost to my iron. I vaguely thought that sounded smart but it took me a few weeks to start taking the tablets as I had tablet fatigue and just don’t like taking them. More on that later.

 

Diet

Just before my sleep study last year, I went to see a dietitian. I found that while there were certainly tweaks I could make, I was generally eating ok. I got slack on my follow up and never ended up going back. But when I knew I was low on iron, and saw from the blood test history that I had been at least borderline low for most of two years, I knew I needed specific knowledge. Enter the dietitian appointment.

 

We reviewed my general food again, checked my weight and had a chat. I don’t own scales at home so I never measure my weight. I said that throughout this course of injury and exhaustion, I felt like I had put on weight from a sheer lack of movement. I weigh 116kg, but I don’t know what I weighed last year to compare it to. We were discussing my goals in the appointment and I said that ideally I would like to lose weight but there were more urgent and important things like the iron and fatigue to combat first. Also, it’s pretty damn unlikely that I will lose any weight if I’m too tired to move! Hence, the goal of the appointment was iron management. The dietitian agreed and told me to come back when my iron was under control and we can talk about weight then.

 

Due to getting to spend more time with a dietitian than a GP, I learned a heap more. Low ferritin levels are primarily dietary, so that’s good news. (If diet doesn’t fix it, then obviously I will be requesting more investigations.)  I can use the medical parts of my treatment to give me a leg up and create good dietary habits to maintain it when I’m done with the medical intervention side. I actually forgot to tell her at first that I was on the pill for the purposes of skipping periods. She was really excited to hear that. I wanted to know more… it turns out a menstruating woman needs 18mg of iron per day. A male or a post-menopausal woman needs 8mg. I had NO IDEA periods sapped you of so much iron. Wow. So by going on the pill for at least four months, I more than HALVE my iron needs. No wonder that will help boost my stores!

 

The majority of the appointment centered around working out if I meet the 18mg recommended daily intake of iron. Anyone want to guess the answer? 🙂

 

On a good day I was reaching around 12mg, which was pretty respectable. But with low levels, I really need to be hitting the 18mg as often as I can.

 

Some of the things I’m adjusting:

  • More red meat – I’m going for 4 days per week
  • Throw more things like kidney beans into minced beef meals for an iron boost
  • Maintain consistency of my veggies for their iron benefits
  • Snacks to “fill up” the gap between my good day 12mg and the ideal 18mg

 

Snacks that work for me:

  • Nuts
  • Dried fruits
  • Hummus
  • Iron fortified breakfast cereals – I’m not a cereal person, so if you have one that you like that is good eaten dry, please let me know in the comments!

 

Weird things I learned:

  • Milo has heaps or iron
  • I may be lactose intolerant (milk can bother me which is why I rarely use it, but cheese and yogurt rarely do, which is apparently because milk has so much more lactose in it)
  • Licorice is really good for iron, and I have literal permission to eat a serve if I want junk food! (How hilarious/awesome is that?!) Iron tablets can also make you constipated (though thankfully I’m tolerating them pretty well) so seeing as licorice is a mild laxative, it’s doubly perfect for iron issues.

 

It’s a lot like when Ben was told he was a type one diabetic and we had to learn to diabetically count carbs. Which we can both do without thinking now. I’ve got a large table of foods and how many mg of iron they contain. Practice will ingrain that into me and I know that eventually I’ll be able to know how much iron I’ve had each day even without referring to it. I downloaded an app I know is popular for carb counting with diabetics (because it actually has Australian food values in it, whereas most are American) but was disappointed to see it doesn’t cover iron.

 

As they’re generally happy with how I eat, it was a lot more about tweaking to optimise my diet to my current needs. And that was the huge value in seeing a qualified person. They were fantastic and worked with my budget, tastes and preferences. They were super realistic and that’s because they want to find a plan that you’ll stick to. I even got told to not bother with some parts until I’ve done my last assignments because it would be too much on my plate. (Get it!? Plate!)

 

Managing Low Iron

Before I started supplements I could last until about midday at work, then frankly I was a distracted and shitty employee. Because I had no energy.

 

After a few weeks on supplements I was easily (well, easily enough!) able to manage a day at work, but it really wrecked me & I couldn’t function when I got home. A week at work means I have to be really still all weekend to regain energy. Obviously this has had massive impacts on my ability to study this semester, as after work and on weekends are study times!

 

I am still only just managing. We bathed our dog on the weekend and a few minutes in the yard scrubbing her made me go to bed for two hours afterwards to recuperate. My whole body was mad at me. Not like I had pulled anything, just I used it too much.

 

Drop, drop, drop and DROP things. You will not get better by doing too much. Drop things that it disgusts you to drop. I have.

 

Before I end, I want to repeat myself:

  • I’m not a doctor.
  • How I am treating low iron is how my medical team thinks that it suits me.
  • Know yourself.
  • Work with qualified professionals.

 

Have you ever had low iron? How did you notice it and manage it? Any tips that you can share to help others?

 

18 Comment

  1. I had low iron in 1988 prior to my hysterectomy (in fact it was a shock to the doctors) and was given advice such as yours via a dietician. I knew about iron tablets and vitamin C..and not having a cup of tea (negates the iron effects). Fast forward to the next few decades and my iron levels were within normal range. Last year though, thanks to stress and not eating enough protein which was iron rich, levels were a bit worrisome again. Only needed to up the red meat eating and I do this with a bit more regularity now. I haven’t had a recent blood test but my energy levels are good and apart from stress-related things like IBS, I am healthier and at a lower weight than I have been for decades. Thanks for linking up for for Life This Week. Denyse

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      It’s amazing/scary what stress can do to our bodies! I’m not too worried about my weight even thought it’s higher than it needs to be; I know that with food tweaks I eat better and even walking has had visible positive effects in the past. Even with being low & injured my iPhone tells me I do 3000-4000 steps per day (just with work and commuting) and the dietitian was amazed I was doing that much. So I think I must be doing really well.

  2. I’ve never had a problem with my iron, well that I am aware of. I didn’t know that it’s treatment could be so complicated, that said, you sure sound like you have your treatment nailed now.

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      I think for me becuase it’s been two years of low or nearly low I wanted it managed a lot more throughly than maybe others!

  3. Ness, I really sympathise, because I have been through this, and yes, had the injections in my bum (which leave a stain, so it looked like I had 2 bruises or black eyes on my backside as hubster used to joke – it took about 15 years for them to disappear completely). I knew I was exhausted but I had depression and two small children at the time so figured that was what was wrong, so it took a long time to get a diagnosis and treatment. When my kids were small I would stick the a/c on in our bedroom and we would ALL lie down and have an afternoon nanna nap together, I was like a zombie after lunch. I continued to struggle, take iron tablets etc, until I had a hysterectomy about 5 years ago. I feel much better now and my last blood test earlier this year revealed I am back to normal at long last!

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      Yes, the 50c piece stains on the butt are one thing my GP warned me about. He said it might not happen every time but it’s also really inevitable that it will happen. And apparently infusions can discolour your entire skin.
      I can’t imagine low iron with early motherhood and depression! It’s a miracle you were able to work out the iron was a variable with those other factors on top.
      I hope for me that diet manages it long term but I am slightly suspicious that it might be something I am predisposed to and will monitor always.

  4. Cat@life through the haze says: Reply

    Wow, I went for my heart results today and they are fine I have severe anaemia most likely caused by low iron stores, that are most likely caused by heavy periods too frequently. I have been referred to a specialist because I am going to get an infusion. I have had an iron infusion and blood transfusion in the past, just after I gave birth to our twins and I was in hospital.
    Once my stores drop past normal levels and mine are non existent nothing else will bring them up. I have tried iron supplements in the past.
    Turns out anaemia is the nasty cause of a lot of my heart troubles! Very timely post!
    Cat

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      Oh wow, I had no idea it could cause heart troubles. I’m so glad you’re getting it looked into and hope the infusions help you! I’m hoping diet can solve mine but I won’t know for probably another few months until it’s time to get an updated blood test to see how they are going. The dietitian said she thinks I won’t know myself for all the energy I’ll have in a few months so I hope she’s right.

  5. Gosh, this is fascinating. As a vegetarian, I’ve gone through periods of low iron, but nothing like what you’re experiencing. I had no idea about the milo. I’m having one right now. Winning!! I hope you find the right treatment for you to help you feel back to your normal self.

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      I’m pretty confident that these things will boost me up. And if they don’t, then there are certainly the infusions/injections and further things to look at. My dietitian was saying that apparently for vegetarians, your body gets better at absorbing the plant based iron so you don’t miss the meat based iron. Bodies do cool stuff!

  6. I’m pleased you consulted your GP and got the help you needed. I love licorice, do you know it’s really good to get your bowels moving, so that’s a kill 2 birds with 1 stone kind of food! I’m not a cereal person either, I was wondering if you made your own granola, you could chuck in loads of seeds and nuts (to make it iron rich) it’s delicious to eat dry and then you can eat it with yoghurt instead of milk. Here’s to health!

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      Some of my snacks are fairly nut based, so I was thinking the cereal would mix it up a bit. I’ll have a snoop when I next do grocery shopping to see what looks good. Can only try!

  7. I have low iron, it’s been an ongoing problem of mine for over a decade. And yep, I’m constantly tired. Seems my body has trouble with storing iron so I can eat red meat until the cows come home and it doesn’t make a difference. I’ve taken iron supplementa before and they make me feel a bit ick unfortunately. I think it’s probably time I go back to the docs and get my iron levels checked again as I can tell (by my constant tiredness) that they’ll be low. Thanks for writing this post and sharing your story, I certainly learnt a few things (like the licorice thing yum!) Hope you’re feeling better and more energetic soon

    1. Vanessa Smith says: Reply

      I’m hoping my stores do come back up but given that my diet isn’t horrible and it’s been a thing for at least two years, I’m suspicious I’ll need to be vigilant regularly about this for a long time. I’m thinking of making sure I have checks of my iron at least twice a year from here on out, but next time I chat to my GP I’ll see how often he thinks it’s needed. I’m lucky that for now I’m tolerating the iron tablets, which is good. I’ve seen on US sites that they have liquid supplements as opposed to the tablets, but I don’t know about the suitability or availability of them here.

  8. Ooooh, I hope your body sorts itself out soon xx It’s so frustrating to be tired all the time. I was on Ferrograd C during pregnancy. It’s strong stuff!

    1. I can feel that I’m improving, but also the more I improve, the tireder I feel – in terms of I feel like there’s a long way to go before I feel human again, I’m just realising now how bad I was!

  9. Well done for sharing your health story because often it’s something we’ve learnt from a friend or family member that can remind us to check a health concern out. I’m pretty sure my iron levels are ok. I had a Nanna nap on both Saturday and Sunday arvo but I’d say that’s another year older more than anything!! Glad you’ve got your iron situ sussed. Take care of you xx #teamIBOT

    1. I used to be a bit “pfft” when people told me to get my iron checked! But what I’ve found is that I needed to understand more; being only just outside of the bad zone wasn’t good enough for me to stop supplements last time, even though that’s what my then-GP said. I really need to get a LOT higher than I am.

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