Anemia

UPDATED ON: 8 Dec 2023, 16:00 PM
Medically Reviewed by

What is Anemia?

Anemia due to iron deficiency is a prevalent condition characterised by insufficient red blood cells. This nutritional deficiency impacts oxygen transport, leading to fatigue, weakness, and potential complications. However, this condition can be prevented.

Anemia
Anemia can be treated! Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Iron Deficiency Anemia happens when your body doesn’t have enough iron. This leads to lower hemoglobin, which is crucial for carrying oxygen. When there’s not enough oxygen in the blood, it can cause symptoms like fatigue, weakness, dizziness, and shortness of breath. This condition is a significant health issue worldwide, especially for young children, menstruating adolescent girls, women, and pregnant or postpartum women. Although anemia is treatable, if not addressed, it can pose life-threatening risks. Hence, it is crucial to make early detection to manage the conditions.

Causes of Anemia

Anemia, often caused by iron deficiency, can result from insufficient iron intake, poor absorption, blood loss, or increased iron requirements. Common causes include:

  • Inadequate dietary iron: Insufficient intake of iron-rich foods can lead to anemia, as the body relies on dietary sources for this essential mineral.
  • Chronic blood loss: Persistent blood loss, often from conditions like heavy menstruation, gastrointestinal bleeding, or ulcers, can deplete iron stores, contributing to anemia.
  • Impaired iron absorption: Conditions like celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, or surgeries affecting the digestive tract may hinder iron absorption, leading to deficiency.
  • Increased iron requirements: Certain life stages, such as pregnancy, infancy, and adolescence, as well as intense physical activity, can elevate iron needs, making individuals more susceptible to deficiency.
  • Pregnant women: Groups like vegetarians, who may have lower iron intake from plant sources, and pregnant women, with heightened iron demands, are more susceptible to iron deficiency.

Key Facts About Anemia

Major Symptoms
  • Fatigue
  • Pale yellow skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Weakness
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Cognitive difficulties
  • Hair loss
  • Brittle nails
Necessary Health Tests
  • Complete Blood Count (CBC)
  • Peripheral Blood Smear
  • Serum Iron
  • Ferritin
  • Vitamin B12 Level
  • Folate Level
  • Bone Marrow Biopsy (if needed)
Treatment
  • Iron supplements
  • Iron-rich diet
  • Vitamin supplements
  • Medication
  • Blood transfusions
  • Treatment of underlying conditions

Symptoms of Anemia

Initially, iron deficiency can be so mild that it goes unnoticed. But as the body becomes more deficient in iron and anemia worsens, you may experience these symptoms:

1. Fatigue: Persistent tiredness and a lack of energy are common symptoms, as anemia leads to reduced oxygen delivery to tissues.
2. Pale yellow skin: Anemic individuals may exhibit paleness in the skin, especially noticeable in the face, inner lining of the eyelids and tongue.
3. Shortness of breath: Insufficient oxygen can result in difficulty breathing, particularly during physical activities.
4. Dizziness or lightheadedness: Anemia can lead to reduced blood flow to the brain, causing sensations of dizziness or lightheadedness.
5. Headaches: Insufficient oxygen supply to the brain may trigger headaches in individuals with anemia.
6. Cold hands and feet: Poor circulation due to reduced red blood cell production can lead to a sensation of coldness in the extremities.
7. Weakness: Weakness may be experienced due to the overall lack of oxygen reaching muscles and tissues.
8. Irregular Heartbeat: In some cases, anemia can cause the heart to beat irregularly or more rapidly.
9. Cognitive Difficulties: Difficulty concentrating and cognitive impairment may occur due to insufficient oxygen reaching the brain.
10. Hair loss: Anemia can contribute to hair loss, affecting the growth and strength of hair.
11. Brittle nails: Nails may become brittle and prone to breakage due to the impact of anemia on overall health.

If you are experiencing most of these signs and symptoms, you should seek a medical evaluation.

Diagnosis of Anemia

Diagnosing anemia involves a comprehensive approach, combining medical history, physical examination, and various blood tests to assess the levels of hemoglobin, red blood cells, and other related parameters. Here’s an overview of diagnosing anemia:

1. Medical history: The healthcare provider will inquire about symptoms, family history, dietary habits, and any underlying health conditions that could contribute to anemia. This can help guide further investigation.

2. Physical examination: A thorough physical examination may reveal signs associated with anemia, such as pale skin, rapid heart rate, etc.

3. Blood tests

  • Complete blood count (CBC): This essential test measures hemoglobin levels, and the number of red blood cells. Abnormal values can indicate anemia.
  • Peripheral blood smear: A microscopic examination of a blood sample allows visualization of the shape and size of red blood cells, helping to identify certain types of anemia.

4. Additional tests: Depending on initial results, additional tests may be ordered to determine the underlying cause of anemia. These can include serum iron, ferritin, vitamin B12, and folate levels, as well as tests for inflammation or genetic factors affecting blood cell production.

5. Bone marrow examination: In rare cases or when a specific cause is not identified, a bone marrow aspiration biopsy may be recommended to assess the production and functioning of blood cells within the bone marrow.

Treatment of Anemia

Iron deficiency anemia can be effectively managed with medication, lifestyle, and dietary changes. Here’s an overview of it:

1. Iron supplements: For iron-deficiency anemia, the primary treatment involves oral or intravenous iron. These aim to replenish iron stores and stimulate the production of red blood cells.

2. Iron-rich diet: Dietary adjustments to include iron-rich foods like red meat, beans, nuts and seeds, legumes, and leafy greens are recommended.

3. Vitamin supplements: Anemia caused by deficiencies in vitamin B12 or folate may require supplementation of these nutrients. This is often administered through oral supplements or injections.

4. Medication: In cases where medications contribute to anemia, adjusting the dosage or switching to alternative medications may be considered under medical supervision.

5. Blood transfusions: In severe cases or when rapid improvement is necessary, blood transfusions may be administered to quickly increase the number of red blood cells.

6. Treatment of underlying conditions: Addressing the root cause of anemia is crucial. This may involve managing chronic diseases, treating gastrointestinal bleeding, or addressing conditions affecting nutrient absorption.

Related FAQs

What is the main reason for anemia?

The primary cause of anemia is iron deficiency or a decrease in the amount of hemoglobin, the iron-containing protein in red blood cells. Other causes include deficiencies in vitamin B12 or folate, chronic diseases, genetic conditions, and chronic inflammation affecting red blood cell production or lifespan.

Is anemia dangerous?

Anemia can range from mild to severe, and its impact on health varies. While mild cases may cause fatigue and weakness, severe anemia can lead to complications, affecting the heart and other organs.

Can someone die from anemia?

In general, death directly caused by anemia is rare. However, severe, untreated anemia can be a life-threatening condition.

Why is iron deficiency anemia more common in women?

Iron deficiency anemia is more prevalent in women due to factors such as menstrual blood loss, pregnancy, and lactation. Menstruating women lose iron through monthly blood loss, and the increased iron demands during pregnancy and breastfeeding contribute to a higher risk.

Can anemia be treated?

Yes, anemia can be treated. Iron supplements or dietary changes may be prescribed to treat it. Vitamin supplementation is also advised to address deficiencies, and in certain cases, erythropoietin injections or blood transfusions may be recommended.

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