In this article we will look at:
- What is anemia?
- How does anemia occur?
- Who is prone to anemia?
- What are the causes of anemia?
- What are the symptoms of anemia? How is anemia diagnosed?
- What are the complications of anemia?
- What is the treatment of anemia?
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What is anemia?
Anemia is a very common blood disorder in which your blood has lower than the normal number of red blood cells. This condition can also occur if your red blood cells don't contain enough haemoglobin.
Hemoglobin is a complex protein found in red blood cells that contains an iron molecule and gives blood its red colour. It is this protein that helps the red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.
Severe or long-lasting anemia can damage your heart, brain, and other organs in your body. Very severe anemia may even cause death.
For men, anemia is typically defined as haemoglobin level of less than 13.5 gram/100 ml, and in women as haemoglobin of less than 12.0 gram/100 ml.
How does anemia occur?
The human body makes three types of blood cells:
- white blood cells to fight off any infection
- platelets to help your blood clot and heal wounds fast
- red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout your body
The red blood cells contain haemoglobin an iron-rich protein that gives blood its red colour.
The haemoglobin aids the red blood cells to carry oxygen from the lungs and distribute it to all parts of your body and to collect the carbon dioxide from the body and bring it to your lungs so that it can be exhaled.
Most of the blood cells including the red blood cells are produced in your body’s bone marrow, which is found in the cavities of your large bones. Bone marrow is a spongy kind of tissue.
To produce the red blood cells and haemoglobin the human body needs iron, vitamin B-12, folate from the foods that are eaten and digested.
Anemia can occur when the body does not receive enough nutrients, though this is not the only cause for this condition to occur. There are other factors which can cause anemia and based on those factors anemia can be of different types such as :
- Iron deficiency anemia: It is the most common type of anemia, and is caused by a deficiency of iron in your body. The bone marrow needs iron to make haemoglobin. Therefore, without adequate iron, your body enough haemoglobin cannot be produced for red blood cells. This type of anemia usually occurs in many pregnant women. Other causes include blood loss resulting from heavy menstrual bleeding, an ulcer, cancer. It can also occur due to regular use of some over-the-counter pain relievers, especially aspirin.
- Vitamin deficiency anemia: The human body needs folate and vitamin B12 to produce enough healthy red blood cells, in addition to iron. A diet lacking in these can cause anemia. Besides, some people consume enough B12 but their bodies are not able to process this vitamin. This can cause what is known as pernicious anemia.
- Anemia due to chronic diseases: Diseases such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, Crohn's disease and other chronic inflammatory diseases can cause a decrease in the production of red blood cells, causing anemia.
- Aplastic anemia: The causes of this form of anemia include infections, certain medicines, autoimmune diseases and exposure to toxic chemicals. It occurs when the body doesn't produce enough red blood cells.
- Anemias associated with bone marrow disease: This form of anemia occurs when not enough blood cells are produced in the bone marrow due to illnesses such as leukemia and myelofibrosis,
- Hemolytic anemias: When red blood cells are destroyed faster than bone marrow can replace them, due to certain blood diseases this group of anemias occur. This can also be an inherited condition.
- Sickle cell anemia: This is an inherited condition caused by a defective form of haemoglobin that forces red blood cells to assume an abnormal crescent or sickle shape. These irregularly shaped blood cells die prematurely, leaving behind a chronic shortage of red blood cells.
- Other forms of anemias: There are several other forms of anemia, such as thalassemia (in which in which the body makes an abnormal form of haemoglobin) and malarial anemia.
Who is prone to anemia?
Some people are more prone to anemia than others. They include:
- Premature and low-birth-weight babies
- Teenagers who are at risk for iron-deficiency anemia if they're underweight
- Women who of childbearing age are at higher risk for iron-deficiency anemia because of blood loss during their monthly periods.
- Pregnant women are at higher risk for the condition because they need twice as much iron as usual
- Adults who have internal bleeding, such as intestinal bleeding, can develop iron-deficiency anemia due to blood loss
- People who get kidney dialysis treatment may develop iron-deficiency anemia due to blood loss during dialysis
- People who have gastric bypass surgery also may develop iron-deficiency anemia
- A person who has a family history of an inherited anemia, such as sickle cell anemia, may be at increased risk of the condition
- People who have a medical history of certain types of illnesses, such as blood diseases and autoimmune disorders are more prone to anemia
- People who suffer from alcoholism
- People who face exposure to toxic chemicals
- People who use certain medications which can affect red blood cell production and thus lead to anemia
- People who are over the age of 65 years
- People who consume a diet that is consistently low in iron, vitamin B12 and folate increases your risk of anemia
- People of low-income group who eat poorly
What are the causes of anemia?
The main causes of anemia include:
- Anemia caused by blood loss due to:
- Anemia caused by decreased or faulty red blood cell productions in the bone marrow due to:
- Diseases such as leukemia
- Inherited conditions such as sickle cell anemia
- Iron deficiency
- Bone marrow and stem cell problems, for example, thalassemia which occurs because the body makes an abnormal form of haemoglobin due to which red blood cells can't grow and mature properly
- Vitamin deficiency such as deficiency of B12
- Anemia caused by the destruction of red blood cells due to
- Certain drugs - some antibiotics, for instance
- Autoimmune attack - for instance hemolytic disease
- Severe hypertension
- Clotting disorders
What are the symptoms of anemia? How is anemia diagnosed?
Some patients with anemia display no symptoms. Those who do have symptoms may:
- become easily fatigued
- appear pale
- have a feeling of a heart racing
- feel short of breath
- have worsening heart problems.
- suffer from constant weakness
- have pale or yellowish skin
- have irregular heartbeats
- have shortness of breath
- suffer from dizziness or lightheadedness
- have chest pain
- have cold hands and feet
- suffer from constant headache
- suffer from severe hair fall
If you observe any symptoms of anemia, it is advisable that you see your family doctor or a general physician for a diagnosis. Depending on your condition he may refer you to a haematologist. You may be asked by the doctor to undergo certain tests which include:
- a simple blood test called a complete blood cell count (CBC)
- special blood tests to detect rare causes of anemia, such as an immune attack on your red blood cells, red blood cell fragility, and defects of enzymes, haemoglobin, and clotting
- tests to see the reticulocyte count, bilirubin, and other blood and urine tests to determine how quickly your blood cells are being made or if you have a hemolytic anemia, where your red blood cells have a shortened lifespan
- tests to see the levels of vitamin B12 and folate, which are necessary for red blood cell production
- in rare cases, a bone marrow test may be done.
- Pernicious anemia occurs when the body is unable to absorb any amount of Vitamin B12.
What are the complications of anemia?
Left untreated, anemia can cause many health problems, such as:
- severe fatigue
- pregnancy complications
- heart problems such as irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), an enlarged heart or heart failure
What is the treatment of anemia?
The treatment of anemia will depend upon the cause. Based on your particular condition the doctor will prescribe medicines, maybe blood transfusions or even a bone marrow transplant.
Questions answered by trusted doctors
Did you know?
India tops the list of nations of most anemic women
Iron-deficiency anaemia has remained the top cause of disability in India for 10 years now.
Iron deficiency stats in India
Iron-deficiency anaemia in India is rampant among children below the age of three (78.9 %), followed by women (55 %), and the men follow at 24 %.
Top cause of maternal death
It was the top cause of maternal deaths in India (50 %) and the associate cause in 20 % of maternal deaths according to a 2014 study.
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