Definition and Overview
Anemia is the most common blood disorder. It affects more than 3 million Americans.
It is a condition that affects the red blood cells. It is either there is not much of it or they do not have enough haemoglobin, which brings oxygen to other cells and tissues in the body.
Oxygen is one of the most essential components in order for cells to function. When they do not receive enough, the organs also suffer. Thus, anemic patients tend to feel weak or easily get tired. In severe cases, they can hardly function.
A person can have any of the 400 different types of anemia. However, these are often classified into major categories:
Blood Loss: Blood loss or bleeding can occur for a variety of reasons, and it does not have to be sudden. Sometimes it is undetected such as when you suffer from internal bleeding, perhaps due to an injury or an illness like late stages of different types of cancer. Women are prone to anemia due to blood loss because of menstruation. Certain medications such as aspirin may also increase the risk of anemia because they make the blood thinner and cause ulcers in the stomach or gut. If you regularly donate blood, you are at risk of developing anemia. That is why you are advised to rest and donate again only three months after your previous contribution.
Insufficient Production: The body produces red and white blood cells via the bone marrow. Sometimes, however, it does not produce enough red blood cells perhaps due to a disease or a defect in the production process. One of the typical types of anemia under this category is sickle-cell anemia. It derives its name from the shape of the red blood cells, a sickle. It is diagnosed among men and women with African-American descent. The body produces red blood cells, but they die very quickly before the oxygen they carry reaches the other blood cells.
Deficiency of vitamins and minerals: The body requires vitamins and minerals to allow cells to do their jobs. Nutrients from food are broken down in the gut and then transported to various cells through the bloodstream. Some of these end up in the bone marrow, which produces stem cells. Stem cells then become blood cells. Vitamin-deficiency anemia occurs when these red blood cells do not receive the right or enough amounts of vitamins such as B12 and minerals like iron. Iron is especially associated with anemia because it helps the red blood cells in producing haemoglobin. Aside from giving the cells its color, it is also responsible for binding oxygen and delivering it to different blood cells. It is also possible that you have enough of these vitamins and minerals, but your body absorbs them poorly. This is the case with pernicious anemia, which happens when gut-related diseases such as Crohn’s leads to malabsorption. Insufficiency also happens when you are pregnant since your baby also requires massive oxygen in order to survive. Doctors, therefore, provide mothers with supplements rich in iron, B12, and folate to reduce or eliminate the problem.
Other blood disorders: Anemia may be a symptom of an underlying illness such as leukemia. Leukemia is a malignant blood cancer characterized by overproduction of white blood cells. They either do not die or the bone marrow creates immature cells. In turn, they prevent red blood cells from functioning correctly.
Anemia may also be associated with certain risk factors including the following:
Race: Some ethnicities are susceptible to anemia. For instance, thalassemia or the anemia caused by immature red blood cells is common among people with Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean heritage.
Family history: If one of your immediate family members or relatives has been diagnosed with anemia, it is more likely that you also have the same disease, especially if you belong to the ethnicities mentioned above.
Chemical Exposure: Lead is one of the most common types of chemicals that can cause anemia. It may prevent the bone marrow from producing enough red blood cells.
Other diseases: Anemia may be a consequence of another disease or health problem such as hypothyroidism and late-stage kidney disease.
- Loss of energy
- Difficulty in concentration
- Headache or dizziness
- Rapid heart rate
- Joint pain
- Unusual hunger
- Pale skin
- Tingling sensation in the limbs
- Vomiting and nausea
- Pain in the abdomen
- Learning disability among children
Who to See and Types of Treatments Available
Anemia can be diagnosed by a general practitioner or a family doctor.
To diagnose anemia, your doctor performs two exams: CBC (complete blood count) and physical. CBC determines the level of your haemoglobin and red blood cells. In general, the normal level of haematocrit is around 35% to 47% for females. It is higher for males.
In physical exam, the doctor may confirm your symptoms, such as your heart rate, level of pain, and skin discoloration. The doctor may also request for more comprehensive exams, including a visual of your red blood cells. “Sick” cells usually have a lighter texture. In sickle-cell anemia, they may look like crescents.
Although not often, the doctor may also request for a urinalysis, bone aspiration, and body scan.
Meanwhile, the treatment will be decided by your doctor based on the type of anemia that you have. Depending on your symptoms, the following may be necessary:
- Blood transfusion especially in severe cases
- Stem cell or bone marrow transplant
- Treat the underlying causes such as kidney disease, cancer, or gastrointestinal disorders
- Prevent infections through antibiotics
- Undergo chelation to remove lead
Increase production of red blood cells with erythropoietin drugs