Anemia is a common medical condition in which the red blood cell count or the hemoglobin in the blood is less than the normal range. Fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness can be some of the symptoms of anemia. There can be various causes of anemia. Some of the causes of anemia could be as follows:
- Decreased production of red blood cells in the blood
- Increased blood loss due to heavy menstrual bleeding or injury
- Excessive destruction of red blood cells due to a certain medical condition
There are mainly three types of cells present in human blood:
- White Blood Cells are involved in protecting the human body from different kinds of infectious diseases.
- Red Blood Cells contain hemoglobin, an iron-rich protein that attaches to oxygen in the lungs and carries it to tissues throughout the body and carries carbon dioxide from other parts of the body to the lungs to be exhaled. The body needs iron, vitamin B-12, folate and other nutrients from the food to produce hemoglobin and red blood cells.
- Platelets are specialized blood cells produced from bone marrow and help in clotting and coagulation of blood.
What are the common types of Anemia?
Iron-Deficiency Anemia is one of the most common types of Anemia. Some of the causes of iron deficiency include:
- Chronic bleeding: Amongst other types of anemia, chronic bleeding in women can be due to heavy menstrual periods or bleeding fibroids. While in older women and men, the bleeding is usually from the disease of the intestines such as ulcers and cancer.
- Dietary deficiency: This is one of the most common causes of anemia. Children and pregnant or nursing women especially need more iron due to increased requirements. In pregnant women, lack of iron can lead to low birth weight babies and premature delivery. Newborns who are nursing from deficient mothers tend to have iron deficiency Anemia as well. To avoid long-term complications, symptoms of iron deficiency should be kept in check.
- Absorption problem: Certain conditions such as celiac disease, Crohn’s Disease, intestinal surgery such as gastric bypass affect the absorption of iron from food in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and over time can result in Anemia. Absorption problem is one of the most neglected iron deficiency causes, maybe because, there are no visible symptoms of iron deficiency Anemia, which in turn, delays diagnosis of anemia and timely treatment of it.
- Vitamin-deficiency Anemia may result from low levels of vitamin B12 or folate (folic acid), usually due to poor dietary intake. Pernicious Anemia is a condition in which vitamin B12 cannot be absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract.
- Aplastic Anemia is a rare bone marrow failure disorder in which the bone marrow stops making enough blood cells. This occurs as a result of deficiency of blood-forming stem cells in the bone marrow. Viral infections, ionizing radiation, and exposure to toxic chemicals can also result in aplastic Anemia.
- Sickle Cell Anemia is an inherited hemolytic Anemia in which the hemoglobin protein is abnormal, causing the red blood cells to be rigid and clog the circulation because they are unable to flow through small blood vessels.
- Hemolytic Anemia is a disorder in which red blood cells are destroyed prematurely, at a faster rate than they are produced by the bone marrow. Hemolytic Anemia may be due to 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.
- Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder in which the body makes an abnormal form of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the protein molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen. The disorder results in excessive destruction of red blood cells, which leads to Anemia.
- Anemia caused by other diseases such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, diabetes, tuberculosis, HIV, Crohn’s disease and other acute or chronic inflammatory diseases can interfere with the production of red blood cells.
What are the symptoms of Anemia?
Signs and symptoms of anemia, if they do occur, might include:
- Shortness of breath
- Cold hands and feet
- Pale skin
- Hair Loss
- Chest pain
- Irregular heartbeats
- Difficulties with memory and concentration
Am I at risk for Anemia?
You may be at increased risk of Anemia in the following cases:
- A diet consistently low in iron, vitamin B-12 and folate
- Intestinal disorders such as Crohn’s Disease and celiac disease
- Women of childbearing age are at higher risk of iron-deficiency Anemia because of blood loss during their monthly periods.
- Pregnant women are also at risk of the condition because they need twice as much iron as usual. Here, it is important to keep symptoms of iron deficiency in check to avoid major complications.
- Chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune diseases, kidney disease, diabetes, cancer, liver disease, thyroid disease, HIV
- Family history of inherited Anemia, such as sickle cell Anemia
- People who are over the age of 65 years
- People who face exposure to toxic chemicals
- People who suffer from alcoholism
What are the possible complications of Anemia?
If left untreated, Anemia can cause many health problems such as:
- Difficulty functioning in everyday life because of fatigue, shortness of breath, and difficulty concentrating
- Pregnancy complications such as premature birth
- Impaired growth and development in children
- Anemia can lead to a rapid or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). In the case of Anemia, the heart has to pump more blood to make up for the lack of oxygen in the blood leading to an enlarged heart or heart failure.
- Some inherited Anemias, such as sickle cell Anemia, can lead to life-threatening complications.
Tips for preventing Anemia
Symptoms of iron deficiency Anemia and Vitamin deficiency Anemia can be avoided by a diet that includes a variety of vitamins and minerals, including:
- Iron: Iron-rich foods include meat, beans, lentils, iron-fortified cereals, dark green leafy vegetables, and dried fruit.
- Folate: It can be found in fruits and fruit juices, dark green leafy vegetables, green peas, kidney beans, peanuts, and enriched grain products, such as bread, cereal, pasta and rice.
- Vitamin B-12: Foods rich in vitamin B-12 include meat, dairy products, and fortified cereal and soy products.
- Vitamin C: Foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits and juices, peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, melons and strawberries. These also help increase iron absorption.
Diagnosis of Anemia
Several routine laboratory tests may be used to help diagnose Anemia as well as help to determine the underlying cause.
- Complete Blood Count (CBC) CBS is often used as a broad screening test to evaluate overall health. It can be used to diagnose various conditions such as Anemia, infection, inflammation, bleeding disorder or leukemia. CBC includes the following
- White Blood Cells Count: The total number of white blood cells in a sample of blood.
- Red blood cell (RBC) Count: The actual number of red blood cells in a sample of blood.
- Hemoglobin: The total amount of the oxygen-carrying protein in the blood.
- Hematocrit: The percentage of a person’s total blood volume that consists of red blood cells.
- Red blood cell indices: Calculations that provide information on the physical characteristics of the RBCs:
- Mean corpuscular volume (MCV): Measurement of the average size of a single red blood cell.
- Mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH): A calculation of the average amount of hemoglobin inside a single red blood cell.
- Mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC): A calculation of the average concentration of hemoglobin inside a single red blood cell.
- Red cell distribution width (RDW): A calculation of the variation in the size of RBCs.
- Reticulocyte count: A measurement of the absolute count or percentage of young red blood cells in the blood.
- Platelet count: The number of platelets in a person’s sample of blood.
2. Iron Studies This test is used to assess the amount of iron circulating in the blood, the total capacity of the blood to transport iron and the amount of stored iron in the body. It helps diagnose or monitor iron deficiency or iron overload.
3. Ferritin This test is used to assess iron stores in the body and is useful in distinguishing between iron deficiency Anemia and Anemia of chronic disease. It is also useful to assess iron overload conditions.
4. Vitamin B-12 and Folate Vitamin B-12 and folate play important roles in creating red blood cells. Vitamin B-12 also helps the nervous system function as it should. This test measures the levels of Vitamin B12 and folate in the blood and is used to help diagnose the cause of Anemia or neuropathy and to monitor the effectiveness of treatment for vitamin B12 or folate deficiency.
5. Erythropoietin (EPO) EPO is a hormone produced in the kidneys that regulate red blood cell production. This test is used primarily to help diagnose the cause of Anemia. Sometimes it is used to help diagnose the cause of too many red blood cells or evaluation of a bone marrow disorder.
How is Anemia treated?
Anemia can be treated, depending upon the causes:
- Iron Deficiency Anemia Iron-deficiency Anemia is treated usually by taking iron supplements and changes in diet. If iron deficiency is due to loss of blood (other than menstruation), then the source of blood must be located and treated which might also involve surgery.
- Vitamin Deficiency Anemia Vitamin deficiencies are treated by involving dietary supplements and increasing nutrients in the diet. In case the body doesn’t absorb Vitamin B-12 from the diet, then additional Vitamin B-12 shots are given.
- Anemia of Chronic Disease This is Anemia associated with a serious, chronic underlying condition. There are no specific treatments, and the focus is on the underlying condition.
- Aplastic Anemia To boost the red blood cell level, blood transfusion is done as a treatment of Aplastic Anemia. If in case, the bone marrow doesn’t produce healthy blood cells, a bone marrow transplant is done.
- Bone Marrow Disease Anemia Anemia associated with bone marrow diseases can be treated through several medications, chemotherapy, or bone marrow transplant.
- Hemolytic Anemias Treatments for hemolytic Anemia include blood transfusions, medicines, plasmapheresis, surgery, blood and marrow stem cell transplants, and lifestyle changes.
- Sickle Cell Anemia Treatment includes oxygen therapy, pain relief, and intravenous fluids. There may also be antibiotics, folic acid supplements, and blood transfusions.
- Thalassemia In the case of severe Thalassemia, blood transfusion, folic acid supplements, removal of spleen, blood or a bone marrow stem cell transplant is recommended.
To treat anemia in effectively, it is important to understand what anemia is exactly, what are causes, symptoms, diagnosis of anemia and lastly, the right treatment for it.