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Anemia – Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

What is Anemia?

Anemia is a condition in which the oxygen supply to tissues in the body is reduced due to an inadequate amount of healthy red blood cells in the blood. The condition reduces the capacity of blood to transport enough oxygen and causes multiple symptoms of Anemia that make the individual feel weak and exhausted. 

Hemoglobin is a protein, a highly essential constituent of red blood cells. It is a vehicle for carrying and delivering oxygen to the cells throughout the body. There are different types of Anemia. Iron deficiency Anemia is the most common type that mainly affects women. The condition can lead to complications during pregnancy because of the higher requirement of blood.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is said that approximately two billion people around the world have Anemia, making this the most common nutritional disorder worldwide.

What Do Red Blood Cells Do?

Your body produces three types of cells: white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. Red blood cells (RBCs) are the cells produced by your body that carry oxygen from your lungs to all the parts of your body and carbon dioxide from all your body parts to your lungs so that it can be exhaled.

What are the Types and Causes of Anemia?

Anemia can be of different types. These types of Anemia are:-

  • Iron Deficiency Anemia – Iron deficiency Anemia is the most common type. It is caused due to the deficiency of iron in your body. We know that iron is the most important ingredient in the formation of red blood cells in your body, and its deficiency results in iron deficiency Anemia in your body.
  • Vitamin Deficiency Anemia Vitamin deficiency Anemia is another form of Anemia caused by a lack of vitamins in your body. Other vitamins, such as folate and vitamin B-12, are also required for red blood cell growth. Vitamin deficiency Anemia develops when the body’s supply of certain vitamins is insufficient.
  • Aplastic Anemia – Another form of Anemia is aplastic Anemia. This is the most severe and uncommon form of Anemia, which occurs when the body is unable to produce enough red blood cells. Infections, autoimmune disorders, and certain medications can cause this type of Anemia.
  • Sickle Cell Anemia Sickle cell Anemia is hereditary Anemia. The death of red blood cells surpasses the development of red blood cells by the bone marrow in this form of Anemia.

What are the Symptoms of Anemia?

There are different signs and symptoms based on the types of Anemia. The symptom of mild Anemia is almost untraceable, but the symptoms become prominent as Anemia worsens.

Some common symptoms are pale lips and nails, weakness, dizziness, fatigue, cramps in legs, breathing difficulty, and headaches.

The following are the symptoms of Anemia based on types

  • Anemia because of a deficiency of iron  Nail curving like a spoon, cravings for strange things like mud or paper, and cracks and sores in the mouth.
  • Anemia because of lack of Vitamin B12 – Numbness or a tingling sensation in extremities, muscle stiffness in arms and legs, momentary loss of memory.
  • Sickle cell Anemia – Pain in joints, stomach, and legs, delay in growth milestones in kids, frequent infections.
  • Chronic destruction of blood cells – Dark color of urine, symptoms of jaundice or gallstones.

When to See a Doctor?

If you are getting tired quickly or have fatigue without any exertion, these might be symptoms of Anemia. Also, if your blood test displays low hemoglobin, it is advisable to see a doctor.

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Do not neglect the following risk factors and symptoms of Anemia
  • Family history of blood disorders – Discussing hereditary factors with your gynecologist is necessary before planning a child.
  • Planning a pregnancy – Visiting a doctor is necessary if you are considering pregnancy. Anemic conditions can be harmful to the expectant mother and the fetus. Anemia can also affect the growth of the fetus and may cause complications during childbirth. 
  • Changes in heart rate – Any change in your heartbeat may be a sign of Anemia. Visit the doctor immediately if you experience shortness of breath because of minor physical work. 
  • Significant blood loss during periods Heavy periods can cause a sudden fall in your hemoglobin levels. Your doctor can recommend treatment to control the blood loss. 
  • Medical conditions that cause blood loss – Anemia is common in individuals with hemorrhoids, cancer of the colon or rectum, and ulcers. Visit a doctor for an assessment of your blood for timely treatment.  
  • Nutritional deficiencies – There is a possibility of Anemia if your diet lacks essential nutrients such as minerals and vitamins. Visit a doctor or a nutritionist for advice and correction of nutritional status.

A regular blood test to check hemoglobin is necessary for every woman from the time she attains puberty. Anemia is a silent disorder, and you may miss the symptoms. 

 Numerous types of Anemia and their causes

  • Iron deficiency Anemia – This is the most common form of Anemia. The cause is the shortage of iron in your body. The bone marrow requires iron for making hemoglobin, and in its absence, the body is unable to produce enough hemoglobin for the red blood cells. Anemia is also seen in pregnant women when they do not take iron supplements.
  • Anemia due to blood loss includes heavy bleeding during menstruation, ulcer, cancer, or frequent use of strong painkillers such as aspirin, leading to inflammation of the stomach lining resulting in blood loss.
  • Vitamin deficiency Anemia – Your body requires an adequate amount of vitamin B12 in the diet to produce red blood cells. Its deficiency leads to low production of RBCs. The bodies of some people do not absorb vitamin B12, creating a deficit.
  • In chronic diseases such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, Crohn’s disease, and others that cause inflammation, Anemia can occur. They may hinder red blood cell production.
  • Anemia associated with bone marrow disease – If you are suffering from leukemia and myelofibrosis, it impacts the blood production ability of the bone marrow. It causes mild to life-threatening Anemia. Aplastic Anemia is a dangerous and rare form of Anemia because, in this condition, your bone marrow does not produce enough red blood cells. Some primary causes are infections, certain medicines, autoimmune diseases, and toxic chemical exposure.
  • Hemolytic Anemias – It is a problem when the red blood cells in the body are destroyed faster than they are regenerated. It can be a genetic issue, and blood diseases can also trigger this condition.
  • Sickle cell Anemia – You are likely to inherit this form of Anemia. It involves distortion of the hemoglobin, which forces the red blood cells to become of sickle shape. It causes premature death of the cells, leading to an immense shortage of red blood cells.

How is Anemia Diagnosed?

For the diagnosis of numerous types of Anemia, your doctor may examine your family history, do a physical examination, and advise the following tests:

  • Complete blood count (CBC) – Your blood sample is taken to examine the level of red blood cells, packed cell volume [hematocrit], and hemoglobin in your blood. The average hematocrit value for the men is between 40% and 52% and for the women is 35% and 47%. 
  • A test to verify the size and shape of your red blood cells – These tests include checking for unusual size, shape, and color of blood cells.

What are the Risk Factors of Anemia?

There are some risk factors as mentioned below:

  • Consuming a diet lacking in iron and vitamin B12.
  • Pregnant women are at high risk if they do not take multivitamins and iron supplements.
  • People above the age of 60-65 are also prone to Anemia.

What are the Possible Complications?

If left untreated, Anemia can cause certain complications, such as:

  • If it is not treated at the right time, it can cause severe tiredness and weakness in your body.
  • This Anemia can also cause complications for pregnant women, leading to the premature birth of the baby.
  • It can also be the reason for an irregular heartbeat.
  • Some types of Anemia can be life-threatening if not treated properly.

What is the Treatment for Anemia?

There are various treatments available for Anemia, depending on the cause. Some are given below:

  • Iron deficiency Anemia – This involves taking iron and Vitamin C supplements and changes in your diet to raise iron levels.
  • In the case of loss of blood, other than from menstruation, it is crucial to stop the bleeding by locating the source of blood loss. The process may require surgery.
  • Vitamin deficiency Anemia – The treatment for this Anemia is simple. You need to consume food rich in Vitamin B12 and folic acid or have supplements. In the case of problems in the digestive system in absorbing vitamin B12 from food, you may take vitamin B12 shots. 
  • Anemia of chronic disease – Anemia does not have any specific treatment. Doctors try to treat the underlying disease. If the condition becomes severe, blood transfusion or injections of a synthetic hormone produced by kidneys (erythropoietin) is used to increase red blood cell production and assist in eliminating fatigue.
  • Aplastic Anemia – The cure for this Anemia involves blood transfusions to produce an adequate amount of red blood cells. There are also chances of a bone marrow transplant if your bone marrow is unable to produce healthy red blood cells.
  • Anemia linked with bone marrow disease – There are numerous ways of treating this kind of Anemia, such as medication, chemotherapy, or bone marrow transplantation.
  • Hemolytic Anemia – For the treatment of hemolytic Anemia, you need to avoid suspect medication, treat infections that may cause it, and evaluate any medication you may be taking that may affect your immune system. 
  • Sickle cell Anemia – The treatment for sickle cell Anemia includes oxygen, pain relievers, and oral as well as intravenous fluids. It reduces pain and prevents further complications. Doctors recommend blood transfusions, folic acid supplements, and antibiotics for better results. A drug named hydroxyurea used to treat cancer is also in use to treat sickle cell Anemia.

How Can We Prevent Anemia?

It is not possible to prevent all types of Anemia. But iron and vitamin deficiency can be prevented by eating foods rich in iron and vitamins such as vitamin C and vitamin B12. Consuming fruits, vegetables, and lots of water is recommended to prevent iron and vitamin deficiency.  

  • Foods rich in iron – These include leafy and green vegetables, lentils, beans, iron-rich cereals, and many dried fruits.
  • Foods with rich folate content – Folic acid is the synthetic form of the nutrient and is available in peanuts, fruits, kidney beans, green leafy vegetables, and grains. You can also eat cereals, bread, and pasta to prevent a deficiency of folic acid. 
  • Foods to prevent Vitamin C deficiency – Vitamin C is essential for the production of hemoglobin. Increase your intake of citrus fruits, tomatoes, strawberries, melon, and peppers.

Consult your doctor to find out more about how to get sufficient iron and vitamins from your daily diet.

Conclusion

Anemia is a prevalent health issue in people, and proper treatment can cure it. The treatment for this health condition includes using supplements or even undergoing specific medical procedures according to the severity of a patient’s health condition. People can also prevent the occurrence of certain types of Anemia by eating a balanced and nutritious diet.

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