What would you do if you found yourself constantly tired with little or no energy? This is what happened to Ballinasloe, Galway, woman Maureen Cahalan over a long period of time, leaving her drained and exhausted.
Initially, her symptoms were thought to be related to depression brought about by grief; Maureen has been widowed when the awful tiredness started to manifest during her day-to-day routine. She tried in earnest to remain hopeful, waking up each day wishing everything would improve.
Unfortunately, this was not the case and her battle for health and well-being continued. Maureen recalled that doing daily chores became a struggle, as although her head was guiding her to complete normal quotidian tasks, her body literally went on strike.
These prolonged complaints eventually called for a visit to her doctor, during which Maureen explained that her mind seemed fine whereas her body felt terribly heavy and tired. She had the wherewithal to know the difference between feeling sad and having no energy.
It was suggested that she take a sun holiday but this only added to her tiredness as the sun drained what little energy she had. No anti-depressants were taken as she held the belief that it was more of an anatomical medical problem as opposed to a psychological one, and she was determined to get to the source of the ailments.
On her return from holidays Maureen returned to the doctor and begged them to give her a letter for the hospital so that X-rays, scans and blood tests could be undertaken. The X-rays and scan tests showed up nothing when the respective results came back, and this failed to provide any comfort.
Then the blood tests came back, and Maureen was diagnosed with Haemochromatosis (pronounced Hee-MO-chro-ma-tosis.) This was such a relief to Maureen, as knowing the nature of her illness allowed her to embark on a route to recovery.
Haemochromatosis is a disorder caused from an overload of iron, which can only be uncovered with a proper blood test. It is a genetic condition which causes people to absorb excessive amounts of dietary iron. This excess absorption can in time lead to serious organ damage. Haemochromatosis is especially prevalent among the Irish and other Celtic people.
Symptoms can vary with individuals but the underlying cause of the illness is high levels of ferritin in the body, which causes the aforementioned overload of iron.
Maureen was referred to a consultant, who informed her that the tiredness and lack of energy she suffered from were the first and most common signs of Haemochromatosis. The consultant then explained that the treatment was virtually painless as it involved removing a unit of blood every week or so which would remove about 200mg of ferriten from her system. This would lower the iron levels by about 20 - 25 points. Maureen's reading prior to her diagnosis was just under 1000 and she had to get it down to under 50. Thankfully it was a very successful process- after months of treatment, once the iron levels dropped for Maureen she could feel her energy levels returning which meant a return to normal life.
Maureen has her bloods checked every 3 to 4 months and rarely has to get any more than one unit of blood removed, thanks to a diet which she strictly follows. It is important for all of us in Ireland and in Irish America to be tested for this disorder as the quality of life is wonderful after it is sorted.
It is essential for those suffering from Haemochromatosis to avoid foods that are fortified with iron, even though it is generally accepted that it is not possible to treat the condition with a low iron diet alone. A balance diet of fresh vegetables, fruits, seeds and grains is recommended. If one member of the family has Haemochromatosis, then normally other siblings should get themselves tested too.
The road to recovery starts with a visit to your G.P. Maureen's determination to get to the source of her unexplained tiredness has given her a very bright and positive future. The Haemochromatosis Association of Ireland can be contacted on 01-873 5911 or email: [email protected]