Posted by: canthold | August 14, 2008

Iron On and On and On (and On)

So, I was doing a little editing on my site and decided to take a look-see back at the Trust But Verify link to see if I should keep it or delete it. I decided to keep it because of yesterday’s post.

The post talks about Floyd Landis’s hematocrit level and possible dehydration during his race, leading to signs of doping. They say that dehydration will show an elevated hematocrit level.

For those of us who speak English without having gotten our medical degrees officially– I mean I act like a doctor all the time – here’s an explanation of how I understand this. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Hematocrit is the percentage of red blood cells in the blood. These are the cells that carry the oxygen around your body. One of the doctors (that I didn’t like) that I saw referred to the iron you need as food on the table, food in the fridge and food in the freezer. Hematocrit would be a good way of gauging the food on the table. My hematocrit level was normal in January when I donated blood last. It was even above the minimum threshold required, which is 38%. When I tried to donate blood in May, (five months later!) it was only at about 36%, too low to donate, but up to 38%  for this recent set of blood tests. In other words, normal.

My freezer storage of iron – which, if I’m understanding this right – is called the ferritin level. This is how much iron is stored in my body. The normal range for this value is 22-291 ng/mL. Pretty big range, huh? Well, my value was at a 4.

This would probably explain the weakness, pale skin, and tiredness. What I’m trying to find is if it can actually explain the massive dehydration that I also experienced. (My vertigo is triggered very easily  by dehydration, too, by the way.) Low iron can sometimes lead to a condition called pica where you crave strange things like chewing ice and eating sand. The last time I had really low iron, I wanted to chew ice all the time. This time, I couldn’t get enough water. I drank so much water without ever quenching my thirst. This massive thirst – which is also a major symptom of diabetes, by the way (which I don’t have) – got me into the doctor’s office immediately. At this point, my low iron stores were discovered and I started iron supplements right away. After a few days, I started feeling better, and by now I’m feeling more normal (ish). (The thirst is gone, too.)

Come on, keep up with me, now. If I was extremely dehydrated (elevating my hematocrit levels super high), due to low iron stores, then drank TONS of water, bringing my actual (not perceived) hydration more to normal, my hematocrit levels would have come down, too. (Since they spike with dehydration.) Wouldn’t that have made this last (useless) OBGYN think that I don’t actually have anemia? (And therefore not fully investigate my abnormal menorrhagia, since he also thinks I’m too young to be experiencing pre-menopause.) (And NO, I don’t like referring to myself in any relation whatsoever to that “M” word. See previous post about me never getting older in the future.) Or, I could just be chasing a rabbit down a hole and none of it has anything to do with the other.

What in the world does all this have to do with the Tour de France? Well, after all the horrible things that my body has gone through in the last few months, I’m hyper-aware of how wrong things can go when you’re out of balance. Our bodies are such fine-tuned and complicated machines. I truly believe that Floyd was innocent of the doping charges that were brought against him. I can’t explain why I feel so strongly about this, and yes, I’m less sympathetic to most riders and more skeptical of most people, but I believe him. I think there are possible explanations of Floyd’s condition that have yet to be discovered – (and I haven’t ruled out tampering, either.)

It’s interesting to me to have read the post about Floyd’s hematocrit levels and relate to them so personally. It might not be interesting to you, so I’m sorry if I lost you at “hello.”

I would love a “real” doctor who was like House, without the horrible personality, to look at my big picture medically speaking. Why do I have to try to figure out all of the relationships between all of my symptoms? I don’t even know if I’m right and can’t get any of the doctors that I’ve seen to connect the dots. They just keep referring me back and forth to each other and don’t think that anything is related. Fortunately, after seeing five doctors and an acupunturist in the last five months, I’m feeling nearly like my old self again.

And it’s very possible that this post isn’t really about hematocrit levels at all. It could be that I’m just trying to procrastinate some Very Important Stuff that I just don’t want to do.



  1. Thanks — and your own story made for a good aside about natural variation in the follow-up post.


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