You know that feeling when you have a heavy cold - sinuses blocked, throat sore, mucus everywhere - and it almost becomes a struggle to breathe, like you're not getting enough oxygen because of all that gunk in your airways? Well, this is what low iron feels like, except there is no cold - airways are entirely clear, it should be easy to breathe, but it isn't. A constant feeling of not having enough oxygen. Chest hurts.
You know the sort of a headache when you know you're dehydrated? A banging, swollen kind of a headache where the brain is saying, my god, please just get some water! That's how low iron feels, except there's been lots of drinking. Water just doesn't help, the head hurts anyway.
You know the feeling of "hitting the wall" after remarkable exercise? When it feels like the body just cannot go any further? Heart racing? Limbs tingling? That's how low iron feels, except the "hitting the wall" comes after just one length in the swimming pool. 20 seconds of swimming and I climb out because I feel like I'm about to pass out otherwise.
You know the feeling of burning muscles after a good day on the mountain? Laying in bed and the legs are buzzing, letting you know that in two days time there is going to be lactic acid soreness? This is what low iron feels like, except there hasn't been a mountain to climb, only a usual day at work, maybe 10k steps taken during the day. The legs are just buzzing, lactic acid is building.
It's oxygen. Blood just cannot deliver enough oxygen when there isn't enough iron, leading to lactic acid soreness, inability to exercise and struggle to breathe.
How I got to the point of almost depleting the iron stores in my body (ferritin), I don't know, but I'm due for months of prescription-strength iron supplements to bring the stores back up again. It's probably systemic (low thyroid makes it hard for iron to absorb, and low iron makes it hard for thyroid hormones to be converted, leading to a vicious cycle of downward spiral) but I'm glad the neurologist ordered a blood test to check for it.
I'm just not glad that no-one then bothered to call me up to say that. The blood test was done in November and it wasn't until February when I asked my GP for test results that we looked at the numbers and thought, bloody hell, Maria, are you a vegan or something?
No, I'm not a vegan. I eat a varied diet and actually supplement with over-the-counter iron pills occasionally, just in case, but even that was not enough, apparently. For the next 6 months it's 200 mg ferrous fumarate and keeping a closer eye on my thyroid numbers to get me out of that hole again.
I'm also looking forward to not feeling like I'm about to pass out.