Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Without Blood

If you're among the ~20% of females who have or have had iron-deficiency anemia, this post is for you.

Even if you're not within this population, as a runner, you may also fall into the pool of runners plowing along with this or a similar condition.

Anemia means "without blood." Although there are several kinds, two are especially prominent in runners:

  • iron-deficiency: This can only be diagnosed by a doctor. He/she will test your hematocrit (how much of the blood is "red") and hemoglobin levels. A lower-than-normal value (ranges vary by age/gender) would prompt more tests such as cell volume, iron levels in serum, etc. Anemia is the third stage of iron-deficiency.

    Iron is lost through chronic bleeding, though fertile women don't normally get to a point of iron-deficiency. Gastrointestinal bleeding can be another source, which is why an iron-deficient male is likely to find that this is happening. Of course, diet can be an issue, though bread, cereal, fruits, multivitamins, and vegetables are generally iron-rich. Even cooking in iron cookware helps supply this mineral.

    Iron is also lost through sweat, believe it or not, though probably not enough to make a difference. If you start craving starch, ice, dirt, or other non-food substances, this is called "pica" and is a sign of iron-deficiency.

  • foot-strike/runner's: Repetitive pounding can break blood cells down, simulating the conditions of anmeia. Also, the body can adapt to running by increasing overall blood volume, which may also appear in a blood test as other anemias. This condition is treated the same way as iron-deficiency anemia, which is through iron supplementation.

The bottom line is, if you're feeling exceptionally tired, looking pale, or noticing an unwarranted decline in your performance, you might have one of these forms of anemia. Usually, this is easily fixed, so definitely have it checked.


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