Anemia & RA

Do you feel tired or weak all the time? Do you have any strange cravings, like chewing or eating ice? Do you get a lot of headaches? I can often answer "yes" to all three questions, and it's because I'm usually anemic and I have been the majority of the time I've had RA (18 years).

Anemia and rheumatoid arthritis often go together

Anemia and RA often go together, which you may or may not know. If you didn't know this already and you notice yourself feeling fatigued, weak, dizzy, or lightheaded--you might want to check with your doctor and get lab work done to see if you're anemic. According to the Mayo Clinic's website, other symptoms of anemia include: pale or yellowish skin, shortness of breath, headaches, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, and cold hands and/or feet.

My experience with anemia

Last fall, not long after I returned from New York City in September, my lab work showed that my hemoglobin was the lowest I've ever remembered it being--8-something grams per deciliter. According to the Mayo Clinic's website, the normal range for women is 12.0-15.5 grams per deciliter.  

Taking iron supplements to help

Once again I started regularly taking Slow-FE over-the-counter iron supplements every day, hoping they would give my blood a boost. Unfortunately, after diligently taking the supplements for months, my hemoglobin level wasn't increasing very much; I was still anemic.

Iron infusions to treat anemia

If the iron pills don't work, then what's next? How do you get your hemoglobin (and other iron-related blood tests) in the normal, healthy range? I spoke with my primary doctor about it and she recommended that I get a round of iron infusions by I.V. This idea seemed better to me, and that it might be more effective than supplements (who knows what's really in THOSE anyway, right?). Receiving the iron by I.V. didn't worry or faze me a bit, because I'm used to infusions and injections from years of being on different biologic RA medications.

How are anemia and RA related?

So what's the anemia-RA connection? In an Everyday Health article, Robert W. Lightfoot, MD. explains, "The most common cause of anemia in RA patients is anemia of chronic illness." Also known as anemia of inflammation and/or anemia of chronic disease, AI/ACD is caused by red blood cells not functioning normally, so they cannot absorb and use iron efficiently.

An NIH article states that the body also cannot respond normally to erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone made by the kidneys that stimulates bone marrow to produce red blood cells.  Over time, this abnormal functioning causes a lower than normal number of red blood cells in the body.

Chronic diseases that can lead to AI/ACD

Some chronic diseases that lead to AI/ACD include infectious and inflammatory diseases (such as RA, lupus, diabetes, Crohn's, IBD, HIV/AIDS), kidney disease, and cancer.  Certain treatments and medications for chronic diseases may also impair red blood cell production and contribute to AI/ACD.

RA medications may promote the development of anemia

According to Everyday Health, medications commonly used to manage RA, including NSAIDs and steroids, may promote the development of anemia. These drugs can cause chronic irritation and bleeding of the stomach lining.

Reversing this case of anemia

I'm hoping to get started again having iron infusions soon, as part of a recent mission and determination to take care of my whole self. I want to have lab work done to test for vitamin and mineral deficiencies and look at other additional forms of more integrative medical treatment, such as the roles of diet and exercise and other things. Ideally, my iron should be coming from my diet, but if it can't, I want to find the safest and healthiest way to not be anemic anymore.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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