Blood is the lifeline of the body. It performs various functions, from defending against infections and viruses to transporting nutrients and oxygen to all parts of the body. The blood is made up of various components, i.e., red blood cells, white blood cells, plasma, and platelets. Each of these components performs a specific function that helps the overall functioning of the body. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body; white blood cells have the power to fight infections; platelets help in the clotting of blood with injuries and cuts; and plasma, which is a nutrient component of blood, helps carry proteins.
Anemia is a medical condition, but it is not a true disease. In this condition, the body doesn't produce enough healthy red blood cells, which are required to regulate the supply of oxygen throughout the body and transport it to various tissues. Anemia causes immense fatigue and tiredness, thereby impacting the normal functioning of an individual.
There are various types of anemia, and each has its own associated causes. Anemia may be a temporary condition caused by various factors, such as poor intake of food or another underlying disease, or it could be a long-term condition caused by the individual’s bodily functions. The intensity of the condition can range from mild to severe depending on the person and their overall health. You should see your doctor immediately if you suspect you have anemia, as it is often a symptom of another underlying medical illness.
Anemia is a serious condition, but it can be easily managed by taking supplements or undergoing certain medical procedures that help refill red blood cells in the body. Anemia is managed and prevented largely by having an iron-rich diet, which helps the body produce adequate amounts of red blood cells.
What Increases the Risk for Anemia?
Lack of adequate amounts of red blood cells and hemoglobin in the body are the prime factors that cause anemia. Hemoglobin is one of the key components of red blood cells; it helps bind oxygen. If you have very few or mutated red blood cells, or if the hemoglobin level in your blood stream is too low, the cells and tissues in your body will not receive adequate oxygen. Symptoms like tiredness and fatigue are often associated with anemia, primarily due to the lack of oxygen, which is essential for the body to function properly.
Anemia is considered one of the most common blood conditions globally. Across America alone, about 3.5 million people are affected by it. Those who are at a high risk of being anemic include young children, women, and people suffering from serious illnesses.
With regards to the risk factors of anemia, some important things to consider are:
- Hereditary factors: Some cases of anemia are hereditary and could result in babies suffering from the condition right from birth.
- Pregnancy: Women who are pregnant are often at risk for anemia due to the increased blood supply required to support the baby. The risk increases in women who are not careful with their diet during pregnancy. Often, women who bleed a lot during their menstrual cycle are also at risk of developing anemia due to the excessive blood loss each month.
- Age: Senior citizens tend to have higher chances of being anemic due to poor eating habits and various other medical conditions that affect their bodily functions.
What Are the Types of Anemia?
There are various forms of anemia, the causes and treatments of which vary. These are the main types of anemia commonly found in people:
This is one of the most common forms of anemia. The condition occurs due to severe blood loss by various factors, such as menstruation. Other factors, like an increase in iron requirements due to pregnancy, or children who undergo quick growth spurts during infancy, can also suffer from iron deficiency anemia. The condition is usually treated with iron supplementation, along with treating the underlying cause of the deficiency.
Common symptoms of iron deficiency anemia are irregular breathing, weakness, feeling dizzy, tiredness, and a sudden rise in heartbeat without participating in strenuous activities. The tongue also becomes inflamed and shiny (known as glossitis). One may also experience tenderness or erosion at the corners of the mouth, which is called angular stomatitis. At times, the individual may demand foods which are way beyond the normal routine, such as ice, starch, or clay.
Apart from supplementation, the individual’s treatment will include changes in diet, medications, or surgery, based on the severity of the condition. Patients who develop severe anemia are at times required to receive a blood transfusion, iron therapy, or iron rejections. Hence, signs of anemia should not be ignored, especially for infants, women, young children, and elderly patients who have internal bleeding.
This form of anemia is characterized as a blood disorder wherein the bone marrow is unable to make newer blood cells. This could cause various health issues, such as arrhythmia, enlargement of the heart, cardiac failure, a sudden rise in infections, or sudden bleeding. Aplastic anemia is not very common, however, it is a serious medical condition. It can develop suddenly or gradually worsen over a period of time. It can go on to create problems in the body unless the cause is diagnosed and treated on time.
In more than half the cases where the bone marrow is damaged, the exact cause of the condition remains unknown. The intake of medicines like chloramphenicol, or toxic substances like pesticides or benzene, the use of radiation therapy and chemotherapy to treat an illness, and infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis are all factors which can cause aplastic anemia.
The common symptoms of aplastic anemia are shortness of breath, chronic fatigue, tiredness, feeling dizzy, numbness or cold in the hands and feet, pain in the chest, and skin turning pale. Aplastic anemia is most commonly seen in young adults and the elderly, but people of any age can get it. If a person is exposed to high levels of toxins, has certain infectious diseases, or is continuously undergoing therapy or taking medication, their chances of getting aplastic anemia increase.
In this instance, medications alone do not provide relief. The individual would need to undergo blood transfusions as well as bone marrow and blood stem cell transplants. This treatment would help provide some relief from the pain and symptoms along with improving the quality of life for the individual.
This form of anemia is a condition wherein the red blood cells die and are removed from the system before completing their normal lifespan. Various diseases, factors, and medical conditions could result in the self-destruction of red blood cells. Hemolytic anemia can result in a number of health issues, like pain, tiredness, weakness, enlargement of the heart, and cardiac failure.
Inherited and acquired hemolytic anemia are the two main types. Inherited anemia would include pyruvate kinase deficiency, sickle cell anemia, hereditary spherocytosis, or hereditary elliptocytosis. In this case, the genes that control the production of red blood cells are faulty. Hence, different types of faulty genes account for different types of hemolytic anemia. Acquired hemolytic anemia includes mechanical hemolytic anemia, autoimmune, alloimmune, or drug‐induced hemolytic anemia. In this case, the body prepares healthy red blood cells, however, due to a certain illness or condition, the normal red blood cells are destroyed early, which then results in acquired hemolytic anemia.
Common symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, numbness in the hands and legs, pain in the chest, and skin turning pale. Symptoms specific to hemolytic anemia are jaundice, upper abdomen pain, ulcers in the leg causing severe pain, and a bodily reaction to a blood transfusion. Hemolytic anemia is an illness that affects people of any age group or race.
Treatment for hemolytic anemia includes medications, blood transfusions, blood and bone marrow stem cell transplants, surgery (if required), and certain lifestyle changes.
Thalassemia is a common blood condition where the body makes fewer red blood cells and produces lesser amounts of hemoglobin. The two primary forms of thalassemia are alpha and beta thalassemia. Alpha thalassemia is considered to be the more serious of the two. Thalassemia can occur in both men and women, and some people are diagnosed with the condition at a very early age and end up living with it for the better part of their life.
The hemoglobin present in red blood cells contains two kinds of protein: alpha globin and beta globin. If the body fails to make enough of these protein chains, the formation of red blood cells does not happen properly, thus leading to a decrease in oxygen being carried. Genes are responsible for controlling how a body prepares hemoglobin protein, and if they are missing, thalassemia occurs. Most of the time, this illness is inherited.
The severity of symptoms depends on how severe the disorder is. People with alpha or beta thalassemia have symptoms which are mild and make them feel tired. People with major thalassemia have more severe symptoms that occur in the first two years of life. The symptoms or other health problems include dark-colored urine, jaundice, delayed growth, delay in puberty, loss of appetite, bone problems, enlargement of the liver and heart, and a very pale appearance.
Treatment for thalassemia depends on the severity of the symptoms or disorder. People who are carriers of thalassemia usually require very little or no treatment at all. For more moderate or severe forms of thalassemia, the doctor would recommend blood transfusions, supplements of folic acid, or iron therapy.
Sickle Cell Anemia
This form of anemia is a serious medical condition wherein the body produces C-shaped red blood cells rather than the normal disk-shaped red blood cells, which allows them to move freely in blood vessels. Besides the sickle shape, these cells contain deformed hemoglobin content, which is the cause of the deformed cells. These cells cannot move about freely in the blood vessels due to their shape and often end up getting stuck, forming clumps. These clumps restrict the blood, particularly in the vessels leading to the limbs and other organs. The restriction in blood flow can result in pain and infections, as well as cause damage to various organs. The condition also impacts the number of red blood cells in the body, resulting in a lower than normal count, as these cells do not live long. The cells die in a span of about 10 to 20 days, and the body is unable to replenish them fast enough, resulting in severe anemia.
This condition is inherited and is thus a lifelong one. Individuals suffering from it usually inherit two copies of the sickle cell gene, one from each parent. Symptoms of sickle cell anemia include pain in the body, affecting bones, the abdomen, or joints, chest pain, chronic fatigue, irregular breathing, and headaches. The treatments available for sickle cell anemia only help relieve the pain and treat the complications; they do not completely cure the illness. Medications help prevent infections and damage in the eye and avoid strokes.
Due to lack of vitamin B12, the body cannot make enough red blood cells, which leads to pernicious anemia. Individuals suffering from this cannot absorb enough vitamin B12 due to internal conditions. However, there are other conditions which can cause this deficiency: the body’s small intestine may not absorb the vitamin due to wrong bacteria in its lining; not having the right foods that contain vitamin B12 is also a factor. Apart from the usual symptoms of anemia, this condition can cause other major symptoms, such as neurological problems, nerve damage, liver enlargement, swelling in the tongue, and problems in the digestive tract like nausea, gas, bloating, loss of appetite, and sudden weight loss.
Individuals suffering from this condition require lifelong treatment and medications, usually supplements, or food that contains vitamin B12.
Fanconi anemia is a rare, inherited blood disorder which ultimately leads to bone marrow failure. It is similar to aplastic anemia, which does not allow bone marrow to make enough new red blood cells for the normal functioning of the body. This can lead to serious health issues, such as leukemia. Fanconi anemia can also affect other organs in the body. Treatment usually depends on the person’s age and the severity of symptoms. There are four treatments available for fanconi anemia: transplant of blood and bone marrow, synthetic growth factors, and gene and androgen therapy.
If you suspect you have anemia, be sure to talk to your doctor immediately. Anemia may simply be an iron deficiency, but it could also be caused by something serious. Either way, anemia needs to be diagnosed by your doctor as soon as possible.