Chronic anemia

Geritol ad from the 1950s from Vintage Ad Browser.

As I wrote previously (in Koilonychia and Spoon nails redux) I’ve had trouble with my iron levels essentially since I was a child, when I was placed on a doctor-ordered regimen of Geritol. (I was about 9 years old.)

It has cropped up periodically, most recently when I had my pulmonary embolism in 2000. Then I had to take iron supplements for months just to bring my iron level up to the very low end of normal. (I can’t remember what the actual value range was but I believe 4 was considered the low end of normal and I was below 2.) I’m fairly confident it hasn’t risen a great deal since then — I’ve been avoiding my family doctor since about 2003 or so but none of the suspected causes of my anemia have really changed so it’s unlikely that the anemia has disappeared. (Note to self: Take that blood test requisition form you have and go get the tests done.)

I don’t know the precise cause of the chronic anemia. I presume it’s a combination of a lifetime of fussy eating (including general, though non-deliberate, avoidance of iron-rich foods) and heavy periods throughout my adult life. I doubt there is any kind of a familial tendency (not that there are any recognized genetic causes of iron-deficiency anemia) — my great aunt and my sister both suffer(ed) from pernicious anemia but I don’t know of anyone in my family who had iron-deficiency anemia except for me; then again I am usually the odd one out in my family.

Back when I’d first posted about anemia and koilonychia a year and a half ago, I’d half-heartedly experimented with taking my multi-vitamin supplements. It had some beneficial effect on my nails, but, unfortunately, I stopped taking the supplements shortly after that and saw the resumption of nail problems including the koilonychia. Recently I’ve become more and more aware of how terrible I feel and I think much of that is down to the continued chronic anemia: fatigue, sleepiness, palpitations or tachycardia, hair loss, dizziness, breathlessness, twitchy muscles (this has been bothering me more and more over the last few months), tingling or numbness (also a growing problem), messed up menstrual cycles, nail issues like koilonychia, and itchiness (even with massive antihistamine usage, I am itchy all the time).

So this time, instead of relying on a multi-vitamin, I’ve ordered a (fairly low 25 mg dose) iron supplement from (my favourite drug store, frequently with lower prices than you’d find in a local drug store). I’ll have two-month’s supply from the one bottle I’ve ordered so I’ll give it a try for that amount of time and see if I notice any appreciable difference in the symptoms. In the meantime, I’ll also try to find that blood test requisition slip (it’s tucked inside of a book that I can’t locate right now) and get them done. Probably long past time that I sorted out what other issues I have. (I suspect diabetes is one of them, but I haven’t been willing to find out for sure up to this point, partly because I just can’t afford regular prescription medication right now.)


The Me Project 2.0: Week 2 begins

Have been eating somewhat better this past week but keep forgetting to eat regularly. For a binge eater, that’s not a smart thing to do because then when you do eat, you go overboard. Actually ate breakfast this morning, though, which is something new for me.

My sleep is still really messed up more often than not. I have until March 15 to get myself back on a dayshift pattern or I’m going to have to buy cartons of 5 Hour Energy in order to stay awake at work. (Hey, maybe I’ll actually get a workstation light this time.) This happens when I’m obsessively working on something — I think better at night so I end up doing much of the work during that time. So hopefully it’ll naturally go back to “normal” once (a) the Joomla site is done and (b) I’m back working like normal people. Slept partially normally last night but I also have a bad cold that came on me suddenly yesterday so I slept most of the day as well — and I’m still tired.

Have started to let my nails grow again. Still forgetting to take my supplements as often as I should so I’m still battling the koilonychia, but the spooning isn’t as pronounced as it was.

The Me Project 2.0: reboot

Other than slowly working on stage 2 of the decluttering/dehoarding, I’ve entirely lost track of the Me Project. I’ve forgotten to take my supplements (meaning any inroads I was making on the Koilonychia, are gone), I’ve bitten all my nails (and fingers, which hurt), my sleep pattern is completely messed up. In short, I’m right back where I started.

Well, almost right back. I’ve lost about 7 pounds since the start a few months ago, which at least is a downward trend. And I’ve actually christened my five-year-old oven. But it still doesn’t make up for all of the ground that I’ve lost. Part of it seems to be a side effect of the situation I mentioned in my previous post, but most of it is just the usual backsliding, years of bad habits and emotional crutches resisting a new world order.

So, time for a reboot, a “do over”, with a pledge to myself to write an update at least once a week — failing to keep up with the blogging last time meant less “public” accountability and an easier slope to slide down. So, while today would technically be day 93 in old counting (aka the Me Project 1.0), it’s now going to be a new day 1. The Pizza Gods seem to approve, since they’ve been ensuring that I haven’t been able to successfully order pizza for the last couple of days, long enough for me to come to my senses. 😉

Spoon nails redux

As I wrote on December 31, I think some of my weird fingernail problems are a result of anemia causing a disorder called koilonychia. The nails that are concave (right thumbnail in particular) look very much like other images of koilonychia that I’ve seen.

The Wikipedia page for anemia mentions that 15mg of supplemental iron is sometimes enough to treat anemia so I’ve been experimenting by consistently taking my supplements, which includes a multi-vitamin that contains 10mg of iron. I started taking the supplements on December 30, the day before I made the earlier post on the subject. The results were visible, if only slightly, very quickly.

First, how do fingernails grow? From

A fingernail is produced by living skin cells in the finger. A fingernail consists of several parts including the nail plate (the visible part of the nail), the nail bed (the skin beneath the nail plate), the cuticle (the tissue that overlaps the plate and rims the base of the nail), the nail folds (the skin folds that frame and support the nail on three sides), the lunula (the whitish half-moon at the base of the nail) and the matrix (the hidden part of the nail unit under the cuticle).

Fingernails grow from the matrix. The nails are composed largely of keratin, a hardened protein (that is also in skin and hair). As new cells grow in the matrix, the older cells are pushed out, compacted and take on the familiar flattened, hardened form of the fingernail.

(Also see How do fingernails grow? from Cool Quiz.)

By January 1 (after three days of taking my supplements), I could could feel a marked raise in the material that was coming out of the matrix on my right thumbnail, something that hadn’t happened for weeks. That raised area is now about a quarter of the way down the nail bed, showing a definite difference and improvement in the shape of the nail over what is already there. It’s still a little too soon to tell what the ultimate effect will be but it certainly looks as if supplementing is helping. It obviously won’t be scientifically conclusive if anemia was the cuplrit, as iron isn’t the only supplement — I’m also taking salmon oil, flax seed, calcium, glucosamine, evening primrose, a B complex, and some other vitamins — but, given the symptoms and treatment of Koilonychia versus my own results, I believe that the iron deficiency was a primary culprit. If you’re suffering from the same problems, it’s worth a try.


One of the finger nails that I’m having particular trouble growing is the thumbnail on my right hand. Some of the other nails have ridges and the like but those could be explained away by peeling off layers of nail during prior nail biting episodes — it’s never even so you’re left with lengthwise ridges until the nail grows in (and up) again. The right thumbnail, though, is concave and the nail is too soft to grow out properly. The other thumbnail has a very slight dent in it and a bit of a hillock that I’ve essentially been filing down.

I have insomnia today (it’s now 9am and I still haven’t been to bed) so I decided to have a quick Google to see what I could find.

What I found was a nail disorder called Koilonychia, which is usually linked to chronic iron deficiency anemia. That’s interesting to me because I’ve had trouble with iron levels for years. When I was sick in 2000, I had to take supplements for months just to bring my iron level up to the very low end of normal. I even had iron deficiency issues when I was a kid. (I could have sworn I’d blogged about it before but I’ll be darned if I can find where.) I should take supplements, but I admit that I’ve been scared by horror stories of iron supplements gone bad. Still, given that iron deficiency would explain some of the fatigue and other weird problems I’ve been having, I should make a concerted effort to at least start taking my multivitamin every day.

Fat and malnourished is not how you want your life to go. You have to neglect and mistreat yourself pretty badly to accomplish that. Next thing you know, I’ll be developing scurvy or beriberi.