Anemia is a health disorder characterized by low proportions of red blood cells or low hemoglobin levels. Hemoglobin is a protein that facilitates the transport of oxygen throughout the body. A person is referred to as anemic if they develop anemia, and such individuals feel weak and tired. There are different types of anemia, each with different causes. While some are mild and occur for a short time, others can persist for long periods and lead to critical health complications.
Associated Anatomy of Anemia
Red blood cells
Causes of Anemia
The most common form of anemia, the iron-deficiency anemia, is caused due to decreased levels of iron in the body. Other forms of anemia are caused due to:
- Low levels of Vitamin B12 in the body. This can be due to decreased Vitamin B12 in the diet or problems in the usage or absorption of Vitamin B12 (like pernicious anemia).
- Diets lacking folic acid or folates or problems in the usage of folic acid (folate-deficiency anemia).
- Blood disorders that are inherited (passed on from ancestors), like thalassemia or sickle cell anemia.
- Conditions that induce accelerated destruction of red blood cells (hemolytic anemia).
- Long-term (chronic) conditions, like advanced kidney disease, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, etc., interfere with the production of red blood cells.
- Blood loss due to gastritis, ulcers, hemorrhoids, heavy menstrual bleeding, endometriosis, and other health conditions.
Signs and Symptoms of Anemia
Signs and symptoms of anemia generally depend upon the type and their associated cause. Some common symptoms that may be observed in anemia include:
- Shortness of breath
- Cold hands and feet
- Chest pains
- Pale skin
- Irregular heartbeats
Possible Treatment of Anemia
Anemia is treated based on its type and cause. Firstly, your healthcare provider will identify the cause of anemia, whether it is caused due to diet insufficiency or other underlying disease conditions. Then, a suitable treatment approach will be adopted. Generally, anemia treatment involves the following:
Diet for Anemia
If anemia is due to inadequate iron, folates, or Vitamin B12, oral nutritional supplements will be suggested. In some cases, injections may be needed if someone faces trouble absorbing these nutrients. Your healthcare provider will provide a personalized diet based on your needs.
Drugs for Anemia
In severe cases of anemia, erythropoietin or drugs that increase the production of erythropoietin (erythropoietin-stimulating agents) will be prescribed. Erythropoietin is a hormone that increases the production of red blood cells.
In conditions characterized by severe blood loss or very low hemoglobin levels, blood transfusions may be required.
Risk Factors of Anemia
Some factors that increase the risk of developing anemia include:
- Lack of nutritious diet: Diet lacking iron, Vitamin B12, or folates puts an individual at significant risk of developing anemia.
- Intestinal disorders: Intestinal disorders, such as celiac disease or Crohn's disease, interfere with the absorption of micronutrients.
- Chronic disorders: Chronic disorders, like cancer, kidney disease, or autoimmune disorders, can cause anemia of chronic disease.
- Menstruation: Menstruation results in blood loss, and women who menstruate are at increased risk of developing anemia compared to postmenopausal women.
- Family history: Certain anemia, like sickle cell anemia, can be inherited from ancestors.
- Age: People aged 65 and above have an increased risk of developing anemia.
Typical test of Anemia
Initial diagnosis of anemia involves knowing about your and your family's health history and a physical examination. A commonly used test for identifying anemia is the complete blood count test. A complete blood count test provides comprehensive information about the number of red blood cells, hemoglobin levels, morphological characteristics (size, shape, color, etc.) of red blood cells, etc. Blood tests used to measure micronutrients like iron and Vitamin B12 may also be suggested in addition to a complete blood count test.
Primary Prevention of Anemia
Some anemia (like inherited anemia) cannot be prevented. However, it is possible to prevent anemia caused due to lack of micronutrients like iron or Vitamin B12. Some general measures that can be adopted include:
Eat foods that are rich in micronutrients. For instance, iron-deficiency anemia can be prevented by eating iron-rich foods like dark leafy vegetables, lean meat, beans, etc. This can also be supplemented by foods rich in Vitamin C as it enhances iron absorption. Similarly, eating foods rich in Vitamin B12 (like cereals, meat, dairy products) and folates (dark green leafy vegetables, peanuts, green beans) can prevent anemia caused due to their deficiencies.
Research has shown that drinking plenty of water aids in keeping the hemoglobin levels up.
Eating a healthy diet and effectively managing the underlying cause of anemia can prevent a reoccurrence.
Additional types of Anemia
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Pernicious anemia
- Aplastic anemia
- Vitamin deficiency anemia (like folate or Vitamin B12 deficiency)
Epidemiology of Anemia
- Anemia is a common condition affecting almost one-third of people across the globe.
- Incidence of anemia increases with age and is more prevalent in older women, pregnant women, and women of reproductive age.
- Anemia is prevalent in over 20% of individuals aged 85 and above.
Expected prognosis of Anemia
The outlook is quite favorable for individuals with anemia due to nutrient deficiency. Diet plays a vital role in such cases. The outlook of anemia caused due to other reasons can vary depending on the underlying cause. However, in most cases, they can be managed.
Natural progression of Anemia
Anemia can lead to critical health complications, including death, if left untreated.
Pathophysiology of Anemia
Red blood cells are released into the circulation following their production in the bone marrow. There exists homeostasis between red blood cell production and their removal or destruction. Any deviations from the homeostasis can lead to anemia. Anemia is caused by various factors, like blood loss, nutrient deficiency, etc.
Possible Complication of Anemia
Complications of anemia include heart disorders (like heart failure, angina), confusion, weakened immune system, pregnancy complications, and multi-organ failure.
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