Surprise! It Was Anemia


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Very few times in my life has a doctor told me something I didn’t already know. Not that I’m any sort of a medical genius, but I guess I’ve pretty much had the garden-variety ailments that are not very hard to identify. Once, though, a doctor truly impressed me. Out of the blue, my arm got sore, and then I found a big scary lump in my underarm. Of course that was fairly alarming so I went straight to the doctor. He didn’t think the lump felt like anything serious, but he wanted to pinpoint the cause, so he was asking me a series of questions–do you drink a lot of caffeine, and so forth. I was saying No, no, no….and he was stumped for a moment. Then he paused and said, “Have you been scratched by a cat recently?” That was a big YES, and he gave me a prescription for whatever it was I needed, and the lump went away. I never would have thought to connect one thing to the other, so I appreciated the doctor’s knowledge in that instance.

Well, now it has happened again.

I was having a NUMBER of problems…so many, in fact, that I often found myself thinking that if I were a car it would be time to quit wasting money on a mechanic and just trade the old clunker in on a newer model. (Luckily my husband didn’t get that idea! ;-) ) But there were so many things going wrong that it was hard to pinpoint one in particular. Was there something worth seeing a doctor about, or was I just getting older?

The problem that finally drove me to seek medical attention was ITCHING. I have never been prone to dry skin or allergies, but I was itching all over my whole body. At work, I reached for my scissors or letter opener a hundred times a day, to scratch my back. I kept a back-scratcher on my nightstand because no sooner would I try to settle down at night than a maddening itch would get me in a spot I couldn’t reach. Countless times, I sat down in front of my husband and begged him to scratch my back. Meanwhile, I was clawing myself to pieces in the places I could reach easily (arms, legs, and stomach!). It became such a serious aggravation that one day I had to actually leave work and go buy some not-very-good-smelling anti-itch spray and hose myself down with it; otherwise I would have had to leave for the day.

MEANWHILE, a similar problem arose. I had a nervous, hyperactive, “herky-jerky” sort of a sensation that made me feel like I wanted to jump out of my skin. I often had to get up from my desk and just go out and walk around the parking lot for a few minutes. I’ve had restless leg syndrome a couple of times during pregnancy or periods of extreme stress, but this was more like restless-whole-body syndrome. Friends, let me tell you, this was psychological TORTURE. My job mostly pertains to me sitting down and quietly concentrating on my work. But when this problem was going on, I would sit down and I would begin to ITCH, and then I would begin to TWITCH! (That is, to feel that hyper feeling that made me jiggle my legs and otherwise move around. I looked a lot like Ray Charles did in the movie Ray, when he was on heroin.) I was afraid my coworkers would suspect me of substance abuse, although I was pretty honest about what was happening. I still felt like a fool because I had no explanation for it and I could not stop it. When these feelings would kick in around 9 in the morning and I would look at the clock and know I had to sit there and suffer all day, then  I would feel anxiety on top of everything else.

I was worried to death, because what if this continued to get worse? You can call in sick but you can’t call in itchy, and besides, missing one day of work would not have helped anything when the problem was occurring EVERY DAY. It was scary. I thought the problem might be somehow hormonal just because I’m getting to be that age. I also thought it might be psychosomatic, because it seemed to strike me at work or at church, times when I needed to sit still. At home I was not bothered as much.

Although, it was keeping me awake at night. Itching and twitching don’t make for relaxing rest, and then if you’ve ever had insomnia, you know how it tends to snowball. You have one bad night, and then the next night you lie down and start worrying about whether it will happen again, so invariably it does. I was getting a decent night’s rest about every three nights, because by then I was just worn out.

Well, I felt too silly to try to tell a doctor about my herky-jerky feeling, but I figured at least something could be done about the itch. I went to a dermatologist who turned out to have some rather silly suggestions (i.e. “Get a colonoscopy to rule out cancer.” Um, what??) She did do one useful thing, though, which was to run some blood tests. As soon as she got the results, she called me herself to say she was alarmed by them and that I should go to my regular doctor.

The regular doctor noticed right away that I was very anemic.  As a matter of fact, she said I was SO anemic that she didn’t understand how I was upright and functioning.  It was kind of a surprise…I’m not exactly a frail flower, but I’ll say this much, I have zero energy! It’s kind of a joke in my office that after two o’clock, I’m done, but I must have been that way for so long that I thought it was normal.  Strange as it sounds, the doctor felt that every problem I was having could be chalked up to anemia. She ran a few more tests until she was satisfied that I wasn’t anemic due to internal bleeding or anything like that, and then she gave me a B12 shot and a prescription for iron pills. (Integra is the name of them.)

Voila, the problems went away! One day a week or so after I started the medicine, I reached for my scissors at work and realized I was no longer using them as a scratching tool. The hyperactive feeling disappeared, and I’m sleeping fine every night. What a relief, and what a blessing that I went to someone with the knowledge to figure it out! Imagine the expensive procedures I could have had to go through, or the useless drugs I might have been prescribed. It could have happened so easily.

Now, just one more funny thing I’d like to share. I am known as the Popcorn Queen, because popcorn had been the staple of my diet for a long time. I always liked it, but for at least four years, I had been eating it pretty much daily. Much of the time, nothing else sounded as good to me as popcorn. I ate a snack-size bag at work every day, and anytime we didn’t have a family dinner, I was secretly a bit glad because it meant I could have popcorn. I’ve wondered at times if such over-consumption might lead to any health concerns, but I did some research and never found anything to worry about. After I heard of this anemia thing, I was up late one night (the insomnia hadn’t gone away yet) and I thought I would just research and see if perhaps popcorn might be preventing iron absorption  in my body somehow. What a surprise when I found out that popcorn is RICH in iron, and that a craving for it is a good sign that you’re iron-deficient!  This makes me think that I may very well have been quite anemic for at least four years (coincidentally this was during our uninsured period when I was not having any checkups). No wonder my symptoms went so far beyond the norm.

I’m feeling much better now, and glad to have my mysterious symptoms all resolved.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Suzanne
    Sep 27, 2014 @ 21:30:46

    Sweetie, have orange juice as well (proper oj not the reconstituted stuff). The vitamin c in it helps your body absorb the iron better. Also, if you find you become constipated on the tablets switch to the liquid form. You were really lucky because sometimes being low in iron doesn’t even show up in normal anaemia blood tests, you have to be tested for ferritin levels as well.


  2. Sweet-Water-and-Bitter
    Sep 27, 2014 @ 22:26:40

    Is that right? Thanks! The doctor didn’t mention it. Luckily the medicine hasn’t given me any problems so far, but I wouldn’t mind having some OJ. :-)


  3. Laura
    Sep 29, 2014 @ 13:10:25

    Something similar happened to me. I had been having chest pains for several years. I was only in my early 30s so I thought it must just be a muscular problem or something…but over time I noticed the chest pains were getting worse, and since they mostly happened when I was exerting myself I started to get worried about my heart.

    I went to my doctor, who ordered a bunch of tests, including blood tests. And it turned out my heart was healthy, but I was really anemic. I always had had heavy periods, but throughout my early 30s I was breastfeeding constantly as well and this really depleted my body. Apparently anemia can cause chest pains because the heart muscle isn’t getting enough oxygen due to the low hemoglobin in the blood. Scary! I have taken some different iron supplements, they all help, and as long as I remember to take them daily I no longer get chest pains.

    Not to mention, I can actually function like a normal human being now. Before I started the supplements, I literally had to have a nap every afternoon, like a toddler. I used to put on a video for my kids and snooze for half an hour. It sounds awful but I had no choice, I was just that tired all the time.


  4. Gentle Joy
    Sep 29, 2014 @ 15:50:34

    Good information – it is so hard to have unexplained symptoms… what a blessing to have them explained. I will be google+ ing this. :)


  5. Dianna
    Sep 29, 2014 @ 16:28:17

    I’m very glad you got that figured out. It is so frustrating to know something is wrong, but not know what!

    I was very anemic during my first pregnancy and my doctor told me I would have to keep taking supplements forever. I was taking ridiculous amounts of iron and there was still no difference in my bloodwork.

    I switched to cast iron cookware about a year later and I have had no more problems, even in two subsequent pregnancies. Yay! And second on the vitamin c advice—it helps. There are also other nutrients that interfere with iron absorption that you might want to look up—I can’t remember anymore, maybe calcium?


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