Anemia

1 What is Anemia?

Anemia is a common blood disorder characterized by less than normal levels of red blood cells or hemoglobin.

Low levels of red blood cells affect the amount of oxygen delivered to different tissues, resulting in weakness.

Most of the symptoms of the condition results from reduced oxygen delivery.

Anemia

Anemia is categorized into different types based on the underlying cause of the condition.

Symptoms range from mild to severe, and lead to several health issues.

It is diagnosed by complete blood count. Treatment depends on the underlying cause and varies from person to person.

Iron supplementation through appropriate diet is a very common measure to control anemia. 

2 Symptoms

Fatigue and lack of energy are the most common symptoms of anemia. Other signs and symptoms may vary according to the cause of the condition.

This includes

Body adjusts to low oxygen levels in chronic anemia, and may respond only when anemia becomes severe.

In acute anemia, where anemia develops suddenly, symptoms develop immediately.

The symptoms are often moderately severe even with small variations in the hemoglobin levels.

3 Causes

There are three main causes for anemia

  • Rapid blood loss
  • Decreased or faulty production of red blood cells
  • Destruction of red blood cells

In certain conditions loss of blood from the body often exceeds the production, resulting in iron deficiency anemia. Rapid blood loss may happen during surgery, childbirth, or accidents. Chronic blood loss may result from stomach ulcers, cancer, and tumor. Heavy bleeding during menstrual periods also lead to iron deficiency, and thus anemia.

Lack of iron in food affects the production of hemoglobin and healthy red blood cells in the body.

Lack of vitamin B-12 and folate in diet also affect the production of red blood cells. Inability to process vitamins in the body may also lead to insufficient production of hemoglobin. This condition is referred to as pernicious anemia.

Diseases that affect bone marrow, the organ that produce red blood cells, result in anemia due to faulty production of blood cells. Cancer, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, and Crohn’s disease are certain conditions that affect the production of red blood cells.

Aplastic anemia, a condition in which the body does not produce enough red blood cells, is caused by infections, certain medications, and toxic chemicals. In sickle cell anemia, body produces defective hemoglobin, leading to insufficient red blood cells. 

In autoimmune hemolytic anemia, immune system produces antibodies against body’s own red blood cells and destroys them. Increased destruction of blood cells leads to anemia.

Major risk factors for anemia include diet lacking iron and vitamins, intestinal problems, heavy menstrual bleeding, pregnancy, chronic conditions like cancer and kidney failure, family history, and age.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Complete blood test (CBC) is the definitive diagnostic test for anemia.

In CBC, count of all the blood cells from a sample is taken. Normal value for red blood cells is around 42-50% in men and 35-47% in women.

Normal values of hemoglobin for an adult male is 14-18 grams per deciliter of blood, and 12-16 grams per deciliter in women.

The size and shape of the red blood cells also indicate functioning of cells. Additional tests are recommended based on the underlying cause of the condition. 

5 Treatment

Treatment of anemia also depends on the cause.

  • Iron deficiency anemia is treated by iron supplements and an iron-rich diet. If iron deficiency is caused by loss of blood, treatment focuses on reducing blood loss.
  • Dietary supplements of vitamins and folate control anemia caused by deficiency of these nutrients.
  • Bone marrow transplant is suggested for treating anemia associated with bone marrow diseases.
  • Pain killers are used to reduce pain in sickle cells anemia.
  • Intravenous fluids are administered to prevent complications associated with the anemia. 

6 Prevention

Some types of anemia are tough to prevent.

Iron deficiency anemia and those caused by vitamin deficiency can be prevented by having a diet rich in iron and vitamins. Iron, folate, vitamin B-12, and vitamin C supplementations help in controlling symptoms.

Genetic counseling is helpful to understand the risk of children getting the disease, particularly when there is a family history of the condition. 

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Several alternative and homeopathic remedies are used for anemia.

  • Beetroot, apples,
  • sesame seeds,
  • blackstrap molasses,
  • spinach,
  • tomatoes,
  • pomegranate,
  • parsley,
  • dates,
  • legumes,
  • nuts,
  • raisins,
  • liver,
  • yellow dock
  • and ash gourd

are used in special diet plans for improving iron levels.

Ferrum metallicum and aletris farinosa are homeopathic medicines used to control symptoms of anemia like fatigue and weakness.

China is recommended to treat anemia due to excessive loss of blood.

Natrum mur helps to control weight loss due to anemia.

Ferrum phos is used to improve hemoglobin levels.

Pernicious anemia is controlled with picric acid and phosphorous.

Alumina, Nux Vomica and Calcarea Phos are suggested for treating anemia caused by nutritional deficiencies. 

8 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle modifications are necessary in order to cope with anemia.

Most forms of anemia can be cured completely.

Prognosis depends on the underlying cause of the disease and the severity of symptoms.

Ensure a diet rich in iron and folate. 

9 Risk and Complications

If left untreated, anemia may lead to severe fatigue and complications during pregnancy.

It may lead to enlarged heart and heart failure.

Some form of anemia may even lead to death, if timely treatment is not given. 

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