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If you have had bariatric surgery, chewing or craving ice is not just a habit, it is a common sign of a serious iron deficiency.
Doctors use the term “pica” to describe craving and chewing substances that have no nutritional value — such as ice, clay, cornstarch or paper. Craving and chewing ice, called pagophagia, is often associated with an iron deficiency yet may go untreated because eating ice is not widely recognized as one of the signs of what can be a serious condition.
Primary or general physicians run lab tests for blood iron but many do not order the lab test for ferritin, which monitors the iron levels stored in the body. If you have had bariatric surgery, it is important for you to pay attention and request that your primary physician run a ferritin test along with the more common blood tests. Do not assume they will automatically know to do this because you have had a surgical weight loss procedure. It often takes our being aware of our medical needs and having the decent boldness to speak up to make sure critical issues are not being overlooked.
In the same manner in which you can have a high balance in your Checking account and a zero balance in Savings, your blood iron can be normal but stored ferritin levels depleted, showing a near zero balance. The same factors that lead to anemia, such as vitamin deficiency and thyroid disease may cause hair loss, so an association between hair loss and anemia is fairly common as well.
Those who have had bariatric surgery can have such low blood or stored iron levels that an immediate intravenous iron infusion or even a blood transfusion is required. It is much easier to be proactive and attempt to avoid an iron deficiency than to endure the long battle in treating one.
Do not ignore your love for chewing ice. It’s probably not just a harmless phase or something you do when you are hungry – it is a recurrent sign of a common bariatric deficiency that can be serious if left untreated.