Saturday, July 28, 2018

Protecting the Heart Against Anemia


I've struggled with iron deficiency anemia since I had my colon removed in June of 1995. I was soon started on iron tablets, one with every meal. This managed my iron with a low normal hemoglobin for years but I was never able to reach the desired 14-15 hemoglobin my pediatrician so desired for me. Two decades later when I unexpectedly hospitalized in May of 2015, I left the hospital with increased chronic pain and nausea. My new doctor directed me to stop my iron tablets, stating they were contributing to my pain and I didn't need them anyway. Well, I did need them and I was referred to a hematologist for iron infusion therapy. My hematologist also advised me to switch from iron ferrous to iron gluconate, as the gluconate is easier on the stomach. Although I still have chronic stomach pain, it is reduced with the iron tablet switch. Why would I take iron tablets still if I'm getting iron infusion therapy? Why to prolong the time in between iron infusion treatments. It has helped, I required iron infusions every 3-4 months.

So why do we need to worry so much about iron? Not only does it have bothersome short term symptoms but there are also long term dangers if left untreated. Long term effects I didn't even know about until I started researching.

When we're anemic, our bodies are unable to produce the required amount of red blood cells we need to carry oxygen throughout our bodies to all our organs and body parts. These red blood cells also carry carbon dioxide out of your body to be exhaled. To create red blood cells, the body requires nutrients such as Folate and B-12. So it's important to have these levels checked as well.

Iron deficiency anemia is common for those missing the colon and/or part of the small intestine. Symptoms include:
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Pale skin
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Chest pain
  • Cold extremities
  • Headache
As you can tell, anemia is not a picnic. When my iron levels are low, I experience extreme tiredness starting as early as 10 am after a full night's rest. I will have a generalized discomfort to my body, an achiness and restlessness. It's difficult for me to keep my eyes open and I become short of breath easily, I will feel my heart beating inside my chest. I am always cold so I don't notice a difference there. And I'm told that I'm more pale than usual.

What I didn't realize though about prolonged anemia, is that it can cause heart problems. Remember, that short term effect of an irregular heartbeat? Prolonged it can cause arrhythmia (rapid, irregular heartbeat) which can lead to an enlarged heart or heart failure as the heart is weakened by overworking to pump more blood than normal to compensate for a lack of oxygen in the blood. This can lead to other bothersome symptoms, additional serious medical conditions, and death.

Signs and symptoms of heart failure include
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Swelling
  • Arrhythmia
  • Persistent cough or wheezing with white or pink blood phlegm or mucus
  • Increased urination
  • Ascites
  • Rapid weight gain from fluid retention
  • Lack of appetite and nausea
  • Difficulty concentrating
Additional serious medical conditions include:
  • Kidney damage or failure
  • Heart valve problems
  • Liver damage
To help maintain proper iron levels, talk to your doctor about
  • Diet changes for foods rich in Iron, Folate, Vitamins B-12 and C
  • Supplements for Iron, Folate, Vitamins B-12 and C
  • Iron Infusion Therapies
  • Any other recommendations

If you have iron deficiency anemia, I promise getting treatment to properly manage your iron levels will make you feel tremendously better. As much as I hate needles, I love my iron infusions.

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