The most common underlying cause of fatigue is Iron deficiency anaemia. Decreased red blood cell count or lower quality haemoglobin is the culprit, affecting oxygen-availability with obvious consequences – starved, anaemic organs! Or in more clinical terms, a wide range of physiological effects.
Close to one billion people worldwide are thought to be afflicted – this article will help you understand the causes, signs, symptoms and appropriate medical testing to become better informed about your blood!
Reported symptoms include feelings of weakness, light-headedness, sleepiness, fainting, poor concentration, shortness of breath on exertion, mood wings, anxiety, irritability, sadness, hair loss, twitchy muscles, inflammation or infection of the tongue and mouth ulcers.
Common bodily signs include pale: skin, mucous membranes, conjunctiva, and nail beds.
Like most health conditions, there is no one universal cause. Rather, iron deficiency can arise from:
– Lack of dietary iron intake
– Parasitic worms: causing intestinal bleeding (a comprehensive stool analysis will determine an infection. See your GP or Naturopath for a referral).
– Gastric and duodenal ulcers – also causing intestinal bleeding. (Long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can also cause this indirectly)
– Heavy or frequent menstruation &/or endometriosis
– An inability to absorb iron – conditions such as Coeliac (caused by a reaction to gluten – a genetic condition that reduces the ability of the small intestine to properly absorb nutrients from food) or inflammatory bowel diseases.
– Insufficient HCL (stomach acid). This can be due to a lack of protein or constant ‘alkalising’ of the digestive system with alkaline supplements. HCL is naturally, highly acid stomach juice that helps digest protein, which contains iron and other valuable nutrients.
– Vitamin A deficiency – it helps mobilize iron from its storage sites & deficiency limits the body’s ability to use stored iron.
It’s important to assess whether anaemia is present via testing – a full iron and haematology panel is best, obtained through your GP.
These results will be reviewed by your doctor, but a basic understanding is always helpful in gaining knowledge and clarity. I’ve outlined the most common tests & what they mean, below:
– Iron – measures the amount of iron present in the blood (increased levels may be due to extra consumption, supplementation or genetic conditions. Decreased levels may be due to an infection, inflammation, menstruation or other forms of blood loss such as ulcers).
– Transferrin – is the principle transporter of iron (it increases in iron deficiency as the body tries to capture iron. It is also high in a normal pregnancy. Decreased levels may indicate inflammation, infection or malnutrition)
– Saturation – is the measurement of iron bound to transferrin (low levels indicate iron deficiency, infection and inflammation. High levels indicate recent ingestion of iron)
– Ferritin – is the storage form of iron (low levels are due to iron deficiency and high levels are due to infection, inflammation or genetic conditions).
Are used to determine the amount of haemoglobin in the blood. Others give individual characteristics of red blood cells, such as MCV, MCH, MCHC. Haematocrit measures percentage (by volume) of packed red blood cells in a whole blood sample (shock, haemorrhage or dehydration can reduce these levels).