WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT ANEMIA (LOW BLOOD LEVEL)
Anemia is a condition in which you lack enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your body’s tissues. Having anemia, also referred to as low hemoglobin, can make you feel tired and weak.
There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term and can range from mild to severe. In most cases, anemia has more than one cause. See your doctor if you suspect that you have anemia. It can be a warning sign of serious illness.
Treatments for anemia, which depend on the cause, range from taking supplements to having medical procedures. You might be able to prevent some types of anemia by eating a healthy, varied diet.
Types of Anemia
- Aplastic anemia
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Sickle cell anemia
- Vitamin deficiency anemia
Symptoms of Anemia
Anemia signs and symptoms vary depending on the cause and severity of anemia. Depending on the causes of your anemia, you might have no symptoms.
Signs and symptoms, if they do occur, might include:
- Pale or yellowish skin
- Irregular heartbeats
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Chest pain
- Cold hands and feet
At first, anemia can be so mild that you don’t notice it. But symptoms worsen as anemia worsens.
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you feel fatigued and you don’t know why.
Fatigue has many causes besides anemia, so don’t assume that if you’re tired you must be anemic. Some people learn that their hemoglobin is low, which indicates anemia, when they donate blood. If you’re told that you can’t donate because of low hemoglobin, make an appointment with your doctor.
Anemia can be due to a condition present at birth (congenital) or to a condition you develop (acquired). Anemia occurs when your blood doesn’t have enough red blood cells.
This can happen if:
- Your body doesn’t make enough red blood cells
- Bleeding causes you to lose red blood cells more quickly than they can be replaced
- Your body destroys red blood cells
Causes of anemia
Different types of anemia have different causes. They include:
- Iron deficiency anemia. This most common type of anemia is caused by a shortage of iron in your body. Your bone marrow needs iron to make hemoglobin. Without adequate iron, your body can’t produce enough hemoglobin for red blood cells. Without iron supplementation, this type of anemia occurs in many pregnant women. It’s also caused by blood loss, such as from heavy menstrual bleeding; an ulcer in the stomach or small bowel; cancer of the large bowel; and regular use of some pain relievers that are available without a prescription, especially aspirin, which can cause inflammation of the stomach lining resulting in blood loss. It’s important to determine the source of iron deficiency to prevent recurrence of the anemia.
- Vitamin deficiency anemia. Besides iron, your body needs folate and vitamin B-12 to produce enough healthy red blood cells. A diet lacking in these and other key nutrients can cause decreased red blood cell production. Some people who consume enough B-12 aren’t able to absorb the vitamin. This can lead to vitamin deficiency anemia, also known as pernicious anemia.
- Anemia of inflammation. Certain diseases — such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, Crohn’s disease and other acute or chronic inflammatory diseases — can interfere with the production of red blood cells.
- Aplastic anemia. This rare, life-threatening anemia occurs when your body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells. Causes of aplastic anemia include infections, certain medicines, autoimmune diseases and exposure to toxic chemicals.
- Anemias associated with bone marrow disease. A variety of diseases, such as leukemia and myelofibrosis, can cause anemia by affecting blood production in your bone marrow. The effects of these types of cancer and cancer-like disorders vary from mild to life-threatening.
- Hemolytic anemias. This group of anemias develops when red blood cells are destroyed faster than bone marrow can replace them. Certain blood diseases increase red blood cell destruction. You can inherit a hemolytic anemia, or you can develop it later in life.
- Sickle cell anemia. This inherited and sometimes serious condition is a hemolytic anemia. It’s caused by a defective form of hemoglobin that forces red blood cells to assume an abnormal crescent (sickle) shape. These irregular blood cells die prematurely, resulting in a chronic shortage of red blood cells.
Risk factors of Anemia
These factors place you at increased risk of anemia:
- A diet lacking in certain vitamins and minerals. A diet consistently low in iron, vitamin B-12, folate and copper increases your risk of anemia.
- Intestinal disorders. Having an intestinal disorder that affects the absorption of nutrients in your small intestine — such as Crohn’s disease and celiac disease — puts you at risk of anemia.
- Menstruation. In general, women who haven’t had menopause have a greater risk of iron deficiency anemia than do men and postmenopausal women. Menstruation causes the loss of red blood cells.
- Pregnancy. Being pregnant and not taking a multivitamin with folic acid and iron, increases your risk of anemia.
- Chronic conditions. If you have cancer, kidney failure or another chronic condition, you could be at risk of anemia of chronic disease. These conditions can lead to a shortage of red blood cells.
- Slow, chronic blood loss from an ulcer or other source within your body can deplete your body’s store of iron, leading to iron deficiency anemia.
- Family history. If your family has a history of an inherited anemia, such as sickle cell anemia, you also might be at increased risk of the condition.
- Other factors. A history of certain infections, blood diseases and autoimmune disorders increases your risk of anemia. Alcoholism, exposure to toxic chemicals and the use of some medications can affect red blood cell production and lead to anemia.
- Age. People over age 65 are at increased risk of anemia.
Prevention of Anemia
Many types of anemia can’t be prevented. But you can avoid iron deficiency anemia and vitamin deficiency anemias by eating a diet that includes a variety of vitamins and minerals, including:
- Iron. Iron-rich foods include beef and other meats, beans, lentils, iron-fortified cereals, dark green leafy vegetables and dried fruit.
- Folate. This nutrient, and its synthetic form folic acid, 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.
If you’re concerned about getting enough vitamins and minerals from food, ask your doctor whether a multivitamin might help.
Diagnosis of Anemia
To diagnose anemia, your doctor is likely to ask you about your medical and family history, perform a physical exam, and run the following tests:
- Complete blood count (CBC). A CBC is used to count the number of blood cells in a sample of your blood. For anemia, your doctor will likely be interested in the levels of the red blood cells contained in your blood (hematocrit) and the hemoglobin in your blood.
Normal adult hematocrit values vary among medical practices but are generally between 40% and 50% for men and 35% and 43% for women. Normal adult hemoglobin values are generally 13.6 to 16.9 grams per deciliter for men and 11.9 to 14.8 grams per deciliter for women.
Numbers might be lower for people who engage in intense physical activity, are pregnant or of older age. Smoking and being at high altitude might increase numbers.
- A test to determine the size and shape of your red blood cells. Some of your red blood cells might also be examined for unusual size, shape and color.
Leave a reply