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.
What is anemia?
Anemia happens when you do not have enough red blood cells. The cells travel with iron and hemoglobin, which is a protein that helps carry oxygen through the bloodstream to your organs all through the body. When someone develops anemia, they are said to be “anemic.” Being anemic might mean that you feel more tired or cold than you usually do, or if your skin seems too pale. This is due to your organs not receiving the oxygen they need to do their jobs. Some people find out they are low in iron when they go to donate blood.
What are the symptoms of anemia?
The signs of anemia can be so mild that you might not even notice them. At a certain point, as your blood cells decrease, symptoms often develop. Depending on the cause of the anemia, symptoms may include:
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, or feeling like you are about to pass out.
- Fast or unusual heartbeat.
- Pain, including in your bones, chest, belly, and joints.
- Problems with growth, for children and teens.
- Shortness of breath.
- Skin that’s pale or yellow.
- Cold hands and feet.
- Tiredness or weakness.
What are the causes of anemia?
dietary deficiency – lack of iron, vitamin B12 or folic acid in the diet
malabsorption – where the body is not able to properly absorb or use the nutrients in the diet, caused by conditions such as coeliac disease
inherited disorders – such as thalassemia or sickle cell disease
autoimmune disorders – such as autoimmune hemolytic anaemia, where the immune cells attack the red blood cells and decrease their life span
chronic diseases – such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and tuberculosis.
hormone disorders – such as hypothyroidism
bone marrow disorders – such as cancer
blood loss – due to trauma, surgery, peptic ulcer, heavy menstruation, cancer (in particular bowel cancer), or frequent blood donations
drugs and medications – including alcohol, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs or anti-coagulant medications
mechanical destruction –mechanical heart valves can damage red blood cells, reducing their lifespan
infection – such as malaria and septicaemia, which reduce the life span of red blood cells
periods of rapid growth or high energy requirements – such as puberty or pregnancy.
What is the treatment of anemia?
Medical treatment of anemia varies widely and depends on the cause and the severity of anemia.
If anemia is mild and associated with no symptoms or minimal symptoms, a thorough investigation by a doctor will be done in the outpatient setting (doctor’s office). If any cause is found, then appropriate treatment will be started. For example, if anemia is mild and is found to be related to low iron levels, then iron supplements may be given while further investigation to determine the cause of the iron deficiency is carried out.
On the other hand, if anemia is related to sudden blood loss from an injury or a rapidly bleeding stomach ulcer, then hospitalization and transfusion of red blood cells may be required to relieve the symptoms and replace the lost blood. Further measures to control the bleeding may occur at the same time to stop further blood loss.
Blood transfusion may be required in other less critical circumstances as well. For example, an individual who is receiving chemotherapy for a cancer may be expected by the treating physician to have bone marrow problems related to the chemotherapy. Therefore, the doctor may check blood counts routinely, and if the levels get to a low enough level, he or she may order a red blood cell transfusion to help with the symptoms of anemia.