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How I Discovered I’m Anemic & Why A Diagnosis is Important

I realized something was wrong three years ago. I sought out a proper diagnosis only two months ago, and I am incredibly thankful that I finally did. Despite how serious some of my issues were, it took far too long to find out what was happening.

People easily brush off anemia. It’s true that anemia is very mild in most cases. Some people may not even realize that they have it. I hadn’t thought the random things happening to my body were connected; but after speaking with a professional, I can make sense of it all.

Look up anemia in a textbook, and you’ll see me. I had nearly every applicable symptom: sporadic headaches, sudden faintness, brittle nails, overwhelming exhaustion, heartburn and cold hands. All thanks to a lack of iron. There are several branches under the umbrella of anemia, but the most common form is iron deficiency anemia. No matter what type of anemia you have, it all comes down to lacking healthy red blood cells. Your body begins to show symptoms like the ones I listed because your body doesn’t have enough healthy blood cells to function how it should. This sounds scary, but most cases aren’t too severe.

My path to discovering that I’m anemic began with believing I was allergic to peanuts. In retrospect, it wasn’t the soundest assumption because suddenly developing a peanut allergy isn’t common. It was a coincidence that I experienced symptoms resembling an allergy on the days that I ate peanut products. On New Year’s Eve, I started shaking; my heart was pounding and my vision turned vivid and dark until I blacked out. I was forced to seek help after this. A couple visits with an allergist proved that a nut allergy wasn’t the cause, and it left me with no other leads.

I had very few symptoms in the next year, but occasionally had the sudden feeling of blacking out without falling unconscious. At the beginning of this semester, I had more symptoms than ever. I spent much of January and February with such terrible headaches that I wasn’t able to leave bed and had to force myself to walk to class, then spent most of class trying to stay conscious. On top of that, I was dealing with the less severe, but annoying, symptom of brittle nails that broke and peeled easily. It was my nails that tipped me off to the possibility of anemia.

 My mom had always dealt with anemia, but she didn’t have an issue with fainting, so she never considered it. I contacted my doctor the next day and went in for blood testing – a couple days later, I learned that my ferritin level, the indicator of anemia, was very low. A healthy ferritin level for women is between 20 and 200 nanograms. I was at 17.

My doctor suggested I try an iron supplement once a day for three months then go back to have my blood re-tested. About a month has passed. My nails are strong and healthy again, and I rarely feel faint or have headaches.

Doing some research on anemia showed me that other people don’t realize the severity of it. Untreated iron deficiency anemia can lead to organ failure, an irregular heartbeat and heart failure. Anemia puts pressure on the heart to work harder so blood will travel throughout the body, resulting in possible heart issues in the future. In some severe cases, the body becomes starved of oxygen because blood isn’t circulating throughout the body fast enough.

A supplement and a diet full of iron-rich foods such as spinach, beans and fortified cereals can cure most iron deficiency anemia cases. There are procedures available to cure anemia at its root, such as blood transplants, but those are less commonly required.

If you’ve experienced similar health issues, it’s important to seek medical help – something as simple as a pill in the morning may solve your problems.

Taylor is a sophomore at the University of Florida studying all things journalism. You'll probably see her venturing around Gainesville with a camera and a good book, and she'll probably stop to say hi to your dog. She is also a proud plant mother, a tea junkie, and a creative writer. Get to know her better on her Instagram and on her blog, Taylor Is.
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