Anemia

Overview

Anemia is a medical condition in which your system is deficient in red blood cells and there aren’t enough to carry enough oxygen to your body’s tissues. Anemia can make you feel weak and tired. Anemia has many forms, each with its own cause. It can range from mild to severe and can be temporary or long term. If you think you have anemia talk to your doctor as it can be a warning sign of serious illness. Anemia treatment can range from taking supplements to going through medical procedures. You can prevent certain types of anemia by eating a varied and healthy diet.

Signs and Symptoms

Anemia occurs when there are not enough red blood cells in your blood. This could happen if your body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells, your body destroys red blood cells, bleeding causes you to lose red blood cells more quickly than your body replaces them.

The signs and symptoms of anemia vary depending on the cause of your anemia. They may include weakness, fatigue, chest pain, cold hands and feet, pale or yellowish skin, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeats, headache, dizziness or light-headedness. Anemia symptoms can be so mild that the disease goes unnoticed, but as anemia worsens so do the symptoms.

Diagnosis and Treatment

When diagnosing Anemia your doctor will likely talk to you about your medical and family history, perform a regular physical exam and run the following tests: complete blood count (used to count the number of blood cells in your blood, your doctor will pay attention to hematocrit and hemoglobin in your blood), and a test to determine the shape and size of your red blood cells.

There are different types of anemia, caused by different factors, they include:

  • Iron deficiency anemia – the most common type of anemia, it is caused by a shortage of iron in your body. Bone marrow needs iron to produce hemoglobin, without it, your body can’t produce enough hemoglobin for red blood cells.
  • Vitamin deficiency anemia – your body needs folate and vitamin B-12 in addition to iron to produce enough healthy red blood cells. If your diet is lacking in these nutrients it can cause decreased red blood cell production.
  • Anemia of chronic disease – some diseases (HIV/AIDS, cancer, kidney disease, among others) can affect the production of red blood cells.
  • Aplastic anemia – this life-threatening anemia is rare and occurs when your body cannot produce enough red blood cells. Causes include autoimmune diseases, exposure to toxic chemicals, certain medications, and infections.
  • Anemias associated with bone marrow disease – myelofibrosis and leukemia, among other diseases, can cause anemia by affecting the production of blood in bone marrow. The effects can vary from mild to life-threatening.
  • Hemolytic anemias – these anemias develop when red blood cells get destroyed faster than the bone marrow can replace them, this is caused by certain blood diseases that can be inherited or developed later in life.
  • Sickle cell anemia – this sometimes serious condition is inherited hemolytic anemia which is caused by a defective form of hemoglobin that cause red blood cells to form into a crescent shape. These atypical blood cells die early, resulting in a chronic shortage.

There are certain risk factors that put you at an increased risk of anaemia such as: a diet lacking in vitamin B-12, iron, or folate, intestinal disorders, menstruation, chronic illness, or pregnancy. You’re also at a greater risk of anemia if you have a family history of inherited anemia, if you have a history of certain autoimmune disorders, blood disease, or alcoholism, or if you’re over 65 years old.

If you are concerned about anemia you can take preventative measures such as: eating a vitamin-rich diet (namely iron, folate, and vitamins C and B-12), or taking a multivitamin.

Treatment

There are different ways to treat anemia depending on what kind of anemia you have. If you have iron deficiency or vitamin deficiency anemia it can be treated by taking supplements and adjusting your diet. If your anemia is caused by blood loss (excluding menstruation) surgical intervention may be necessary. If you have anemia related to a chronic illness your doctor will focus on treating the underlying disease, though blood transfusions or synthetic erythropoietin injections may be necessary. Blood transfusions can also be used to treat aplastic anemia as well as bone marrow transplants. If your anemia is related to bone marrow disease you may need chemotherapy or bone marrow transplants. Sickle cell anemia treatment involves administration of oxygen, pain-relieving medication, and intravenous fluids will help reduce pain and prevent complications.