Healthy Living

Anemia: Get the Facts

Anemia: Get the Facts

Key Takeaways

  • Anemia is a blood disorder that occurs when the red blood cell count or hemoglobin in the body is low.
  • The most common symptom of anemia is fatigue
  • Anemia can happen due to many causes, but the most common cause is iron deficiency anemia.

Our body has three types of blood cells: white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. White blood cells (WBCs) or leukocytes are the type of cells that fights off infections in our body. The platelets work by helping our blood clot, and the red blood cells (RBCs) are the ones responsible for carrying oxygen all over the body. Hemoglobin is a protein found in red blood cells that supplies oxygen to all the essential parts of the body for them to function at optimal capacity. Anemia is a blood disorder that occurs when the red blood cell count or hemoglobin in the body is low.

Anemia

Red blood cells (RBCs) are mainly produced in the bone marrow, which is the spongy tissue within the hollow interior of long bones. Your body regularly needs a dose of iron, B12, B9 (folate) vitamins, and other nutrients to be able to produce hemoglobin.

The most common symptom of anemia is fatigue. Studies have shown that in a year, more than 4 million people in the US have anemia. Anemia can happen to women during pregnancy, and it can be passed on to the child at the time of birth. However, the condition can occur at any age and symptoms of anemia are unique for every person.

Signs and symptoms of Anemia

In anemia, there is a deficiency of hemoglobin in red blood cells, which results in certain manifestations or symptoms.

The symptoms of anemia include:

  • Fatigue and loss of energy making the person feel dull. You may feel listless, lack adequate energy for even small tasks and feel lethargic, while these symptoms are not indicative of anemia in itself, they do serve as valuable pointers to the physician. So if you have been experiencing these symptoms, it may be time to consult your physician and get your blood tested.
  • The occurrence of a sudden, rapid heartbeat when doing vigorous exercises. Anemia, especially iron deficiency anemia can cause your heart to beat rapidly even when doing just a few reps. This is because your heart must beat more rapidly to compensate for deficiency in hemoglobin, resulting in faster and irregular heartbeats. This can lead to tachycardia if left untreated and if your heart rate does not return to its normal state soon, then it may be time to consult a specialist to help compensate for your low red cell count.
  • Having poor concentration at work and other activities, anemia can impact your normal cognitive functions. Since your brain requires oxygen rich blood in order to function normally, any deficiency in the red blood cells will impair both your concentration and your ability to focus on the most simple of tasks. In short, if you are anemic, you can take certain medications to compensate for this loss of concentration, but as always, consult your physician.
  • Paleness of the skin because of a low iron level in the body; if you are anemic, then chances are that you are suffering from iron deficiency anemia since that’s the most common. It generally means that your red blood cells are low in iron which can lead to a loss of skin tone and color.
  • Short episodes of dizziness or lightheadedness
  • If you are anemic, then chances are that you may feel light headed or dizzy at times, when carrying out simple tasks. This is on account of the fact that your heart is not able to compensate enough for the low red blood cell count and as a result, your brain is being deprived of rich oxygenated blood and adequate blood pressure to your blood vessels, resulting in dizzy spells.
  • Headache – Similarly, if your blood is being deprived of rich oxygenated blood on account of your anemia, then you may even develop prolonged bouts of headache. So kindly consult your physician and get your blood tested if your headache happens to be persistent and is not going away.
  • Cold hands and feet, this is often indicative of poor blood flow, low blood pressure and anemia. Doctors often check for these conditions since it can indicate anemia and other underlying symptoms. So if you happen to suffer from similar symptoms, then it may be time to pay your doctor a visit.

Causes of Anemia

Anemia can happen due to many causes, but the most common cause is iron deficiency. If you have iron deficiency anemia, you have low levels of iron in your body. If iron is limited in your body, hemoglobin can’t be produced adequately in the bone marrow. You can also develop iron deficiency anemia if you have colon cancer, benign polyps in the colon, tumors, ulcers, or problems in your kidney.

Anemia can also be due to a deficiency in vitamin B12. This essential vitamin can be found in numerous foods such as meat, fish, and vegetables. Other causes of anemia are other things such as having easily-damaged red blood cells, the disintegration of the shape of the cells due to sickle cell disease, and extensive lead poisoning in the body.

Aplastic anemia is a rare type of anemia. Unlike iron deficiency anemia, which can be supplemented with vitamins and nutrients to boost the levels of iron in the body, aplastic anemia tends to be more life-threatening, since your bone marrow is damaged and cannot produce the number of red blood cells that needed in the body. Aplastic anemia can result from exposure to toxic chemicals, a viral infection that affects bone marrow, an underlying condition such as an autoimmune disease, or radiation and chemotherapy treatments. 

Risk factors

  • People who are 65 years old and up; people who are above sixty five years and above are often at risk of becoming anemic, which is why it makes sense to opt for a rich iron based diet. Do consult your doctor and a dietician and opt for a healthy diet that can help prevent this condition.
  • Gastrointestinal disorders such as Crohn's disease and Celiac disease;

These conditions can often lead to decreased blood pressure and low red blood cell count; kindly consult your physician right away and get your blood tested regularly.

  • A diet low in vitamins B12, B9 (folate), and iron

 What you eat matters a lot, especially in ensuring that your body has a healthy red blood cell count. Make sure that your diet is rich in vitamins B12, Iron and folate. You may want to opt for more greens, brussel sprouts and grains like Millet and feature them in your meals regularly. Eating food items rich in these vitamins and Iron can help prevent anemia, while enriching your body with the required vitamins.

  • Pregnancy – During your pregnancy, your body gets overloaded with hormones and unless you take adequate care, you may run the risk of becoming anemic which can impair both your pregnancy and the healthy delivery of your child. Women who are anemic are prone to have a harder time delivering, than women who are not. So make sure that you consult your doctor, a dietician and opt for a health and optimal diet that ensures a healthy red blood cell count.
  • Menstruation - At times of menstruation women run the risk of becoming anemic due to blood loss. While it is a natural process, it may still be advisable to schedule an appointment with your doctor to help your body to adjust to the blood loss.
  • Chronic health conditions such as cancer and kidney disease – These conditions are known to cause the red blood cell count to drop, which is why it would be a good idea for you to consult a specialist for effective diagnosis and to rule out some of the underlying causes like cancer.

Diagnosis of anemia

When it comes to anemia, a person's family history is checked to see if any family member has had the same problem before. A complete blood cell count is also performed to check the levels of both hemoglobin and red blood cells. Hemoglobin electrophoresis is the technique used in the determination of the type of anemia that the patient has. Moreover, to check the status of the bone marrow, a test known as "reticulocyte count" is performed.

Aside from these tests, the doctor also conducts a physical examination. Part of the doctor's physical exam is getting the heart rate of the patient and to check and see if the heart rate is normal or if it is beating abnormally, which it would, if the patient has anemia.

Treatments for anemia

Treatments can be varied and employ different techniques depending on the type of anemia. Iron deficiency anemia can be treated by enhancing a person's diet through increasing the intake of foods that are high in iron content such as meat and vegetables. Treatments that involve bone marrow transfusions are done in cases of aplastic anemia.

Patients who have sickle cell anemia must be well-hydrated by IV fluids to prevent the red blood cells from sickling (becoming sickle-shaped), which may cause them to get stuck in small blood vessels and block the flow of blood and oxygen. Hemolytic anemia can be treated with iron-replacement therapy, transfusion, splenectomy (removal of the spleen), and folate replacement in patients who have chronic hemolysis.

If anemia is left untreated for a long period of time, a patient may experience other health complications such as:

  • Cardiac problems; since anemia is known to cause your heart to beat irregularly, it will lead to tachycardia which can result in serious health issues if left untreated. This is why it is a good idea to get a full body checkup, every now and then.
  • Chronic fatigue; if you do not seek immediate treatment for your anemia, then this may result in you experiencing chronic bouts of fatigue and being unable to carry out even the most minute of tasks without undue stress and difficulty. Since your blood is deficient in iron and is not able to deliver oxygen rich blood to your body, you may experience long bouts of fatigue, listlessness and being unable to focus on even the most simplest of tasks.
  • Complications during pregnancy and childbirth; anemia is known to cause complications both during the onset, and duration of pregnancy.  Anemic patients often have a difficult time during delivery while it can also impair the development of the fetus as well. So it is important for the patient to consult her doctor and take the corrective measures needed to ensure the health of her unborn baby.
  • Death

5 tips on living with anemia

According to statistics, the most common type of anemia is iron deficiency anemia.

If you are diagnosed with anemia, the following are five tips that will help you regain control of your life:

  • Dietary changes: Eat foods that are high in iron. Some good sources of iron are lean meats, fish, nuts, whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables. You should also refrain from consuming foods that are high in salt, sugar, cholesterol, saturated fats, and trans fats.
  • Vitamin C: This vitamin lets your body absorb more iron from the food you eat. Eating healthy foods that are rich in iron and vitamin C, as the combination is good for battling anemia.
  • The amountof iron needed in your body: Know how much iron you need. Remember that the amount of iron needed usually depends on a person’s age and sex. Women who are pregnant, nursing, or menstruating usually need more iron in their bodies. So consult your doctor today, find out how much Iron your body requires and take effective measures.
  • Self-medication precaution: It is always better to consult your doctor first before taking any kind of supplement for your anemia. Too much iron intake can lead to serious health conditions such as cirrhosis or liver cancer. Always consult a doctor or a specialist, since anemia can also be indicative of more serious health issues. Opting for over the counter medication is never a good idea. Too much iron intake can lead to serious health conditions such as cirrhosis or liver cancer.
  • Regular checkups: For the most effective management of your anemia, visit your doctor and continue having regular checkups even if your symptoms have subsided. Make sure that your diet gives your body the iron content it requires, and get your blood checked often. And remember, anemia is also indicative of more serious health issues, so opt for a complete checkup at the earliest.