I had been exhibiting speech and gait issues. I was stumbling when I walked, slurring my speech and having trouble remembering what I wanted to say. I went to my doctor, who ordered a series of tests, including x-rays, MRIs and a comprehensive panel. My hemoglobin and hematocrit levels were “normal,” but not really normal for me. And my ferritin (iron) level at 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood, while technically within range (5 to 300 ng/m for males and 5 to 150 ng/mL for females), was exceptionally low for me. I consulted with a hematologist, who prescribed an iron supplement, but to which I had a bad reaction. Meanwhile, my health problems continued to worsen, and I began to experience sleep apnea and even hemorrhaging issues.
I finally showed my results to some chemistry department colleagues, who confirmed that even though I was testing in range, because of my prolonged use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) to alleviate my symptoms, I was literally blocking my body’s ability to absorb iron, which was triggering my symptoms (iron levels should be around 50 before the body can begin to absorb it properly).
I no longer have these symptoms, but the lesson here is to really know what is normal for your body chemistry and to have things checked out if you deviate from that baseline. Additional laboratory testing was able to give me the answers I needed.