Anemia is a condition in which your blood has a lower than healthy normal amount of red blood cells or hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is an iron-rich protein that helps red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. If you have anemia, your body does not get enough oxygen-rich blood. This can cause you to feel tired or weak.
The most common cause of anemia is not having enough iron. Because your body needs iron to make hemoglobin. Anemia can occur due to three main reasons: blood loss, lack of red blood cell production, and high rates of red blood cell destruction.
Additionally, there are several types and causes of anemia. Mild anemia is a common and treatable condition that can occur in anyone. Some people are at a higher risk for anemia such as women during their menstrual periods and pregnancy. However, anemia may also be a sign of a more serious condition. It may result from chronic bleeding, kidney disease, cancer, or autoimmune diseases.
According to the Web MD, anemia is the most common blood condition in the U.S. It affects about 5.6% of the people in the U.S. Women, young children, and people with chronic diseases are at increased risk.
Common types of anemia
This is the most common type of anemia. It happens when you do not have enough iron in your body. Iron deficiency is usually due to blood loss but may occasionally be due to poor absorption of iron. Pregnancy and childbirth consume a great deal of iron and thus can result in pregnancy-related anaemia. People who have had gastric bypass surgery for weight loss or other reasons may also be iron deficient due to poor absorption.
It may result from low levels of vitamin B12 or folate (folic acid). This is usually due to poor dietary intake. It is a condition in which vitamin B12 cannot be absorbed in the GI tract.
This is a rare bone marrow failure disorder. The bone marrow stops making enough blood cells (red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets). This occurs as a result of destruction or deficiency of blood-forming stem cells in your bone marrow. In particular, it is when the body’s own immune system attacks the stem cells. However, the few blood cells the marrow does make are normal.
It occurs when red blood cells are broken up in the bloodstream or in the spleen. It may be due to mechanical causes such as infections, autoimmune disorders, or congenital abnormalities in the red blood cell. Inherited abnormalities may also affect the hemoglobin or the red blood cell structure or function.
This is an inherited hemolytic anemia. The hemoglobin protein is abnormal, causing the red blood cells to be rigid and clog. This impairs circulation because they are unable to flow through small blood vessels.
Anemia caused by other diseases
Some diseases can affect the body’s ability to make red blood cells. For example, some patients with kidney disease develop anemia because the kidneys are not making enough of the hormone erythropoietin. This hormone signals the bone marrow to make new or more red blood cells. Chemotherapy also often impairs the body’s ability to make new red blood cells, and anaemia often results.
What Causes Anemia?
Each type is caused by something different, and each ranges from mild to severe. Red blood cells play a central role in the condition. There are many types, which are divided into three groups:
Anemia caused by blood loss
Anemia caused by decreased or faulty red blood cell production
Blood loss can cause anemia, whether from excessive bleeding due to injury, surgery, or a problem with the blood’s clotting ability. Slower, long-term blood loss, such as intestinal bleeding from IBD, also heavy menstrual periods in teen girls and women can cause it. All of these factors increase the body’s need for iron because iron is needed to make new red blood cells.
Decreased or faulty red blood cell production
With this type, the body may produce too few blood cells or the blood cells may not function correctly. When the body destroys red blood cells more quickly than normal, the bone marrow makes up for it by increasing production of new red cells. But if red blood cells are destroyed faster than they can be replaced, a person will develop anemia. Conditions associated with these causes of anemia include the following: bone marrow failure, impaired iron metabolism, Vitamin B12 malabsorption and dietary iron deficiency.
Destruction of red blood cells
When red blood cells are fragile and cannot withstand the routine stress of the circulatory system, they may rupture prematurely. Also, certain diseases can cause your body to turn on its own red blood cells and destroy them. E.g. you can become anemic due to an illness that affects your spleen. Because, spleen is the organ that normally removes worn-out red blood cells from your body. An enlarged spleen can begin removing more red blood cells than necessary.
Am i at risk for anemia?
Many people are at risk because of poor diet, intestinal disorders, chronic diseases, infections, and other conditions. Women who are menstruating, pregnant and people with chronic medical conditions are most at risk for this disease. The risk of anaemia increases as people grow older.
If you have any of the following chronic conditions, you might be at greater risk for developing anemia:
The signs and symptoms of anemia can easily be overlooked. In fact, many people do not even realize that they have it, until it is identified in a blood test.
People who are anemic most often experience fatigue. While it’s normal to feel tired after a long day at work in anaemia, you feel weary after shorter and shorter periods of exertion. Because, your body’s cells become starved for oxygen.
Symptoms are likely to be very light at first, especially if you have mild or moderate anaemia. Our bodies are very adaptable, and will try to compensate for the loss of oxygen in the blood. As it advances, your body will be less able to adapt. This is when the symptoms become more obvious.
As anemia worsens, your body can experience visible physical changes such as your skin becomes pale, your nailsbrittle and cuts may take longer to stop bleeding.
Other symptoms associated with anemia include:
If you feel consistently weak or experiencing any of the other symptoms above, your next step should be to see your doctor.
How is anemia Diagnosed?
The first and most common diagnostic tool is hemoglobin (Hb) level estimation. Low Hb indicates is an indicative factor. Additional diagnostic tests includes:
A Complete blood count (CBC). Blood test that measures all the different components of your blood.
A medical and family history. This is to determine whether it occurs due to illness or a genetic condition.
A physical exam. To assess whether your breathing or heartbeat is normal.
Other blood tests that will check for iron or vitamin deficiencies.
Treatment of anemia
There are a variety of different methods for treating anemia, including iron supplements, left, and blood transfusions. Basically, the treatment for anaemia depends on what causes it.
It is almost always due to blood loss. If you have iron-deficiency anemia, and other nutritional anemias, such as folate or B-12 deficiency, treatment varies from changing your diet to taking dietary supplements.
It can take months for iron supplements to begin making a difference in your body. Your doctor will give you specific instructions on how to take the supplements to ensure that your body absorbs the iron properly.
Your doctor may suggest taking them on an empty stomach. You may also need to avoid taking antacids when taking iron supplements.
If your anemia is due to a chronic disease, treatment of the underlying disease will often improve your condition. Under some circumstances, such as CKD, your doctor may prescribe medication such as erythropoietin injections to stimulate your bone marrow to produce more red blood cells.
It occurs if your bone marrow stops producing red blood cells. Aplastic anemia may be due to primary bone marrow failure or occasionally as a side effect of some medications. If you appear to have a form of aplastic anaemia, your doctor may refer you to a hematologist for a bone marrow biopsy to determine the cause. Medications and blood transfusions may be used to treat aplastic anaemia.
This type occurs when red blood cells are destroyed in the blood stream. This may be due to mechanical factors such as infection, or an autoimmune disease. The cause can often be identified by special blood tests and by looking at the red blood cells under a microscope. The treatment will depend upon the cause and may include antibiotics, or drugs that suppress the immune system.
However, talk with your doctor if you believe you may be at risk for anaemia. Your doctor will determine your best course of treatment. Also, depending on your condition, he may refer you a doctor who specializes in blood disorders.
Prevention of anemia
Some forms of anaemia can’t be prevented because they are caused by a breakdown in the cell-making process. Dietary deficiencies can be prevented by eating dairy foods, lean meats, eggs, nuts and legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables. Regular intake of vitamin C because it increases absorption of iron but milk or antacids interfere with absorption of iron. Always visit the hospital for regular medical check up.
Felix Ntifo is a Registered General Nurse who has so much passion to improve health care delivery. He founded FelClinic with the hope of making health information accessible to everyone who may not come in contact with him personally.
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