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Anemia is one of the conditions that affect millions of people worldwide yet can go unnoticed. According to the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, around 2.8 million Americans yearly are diagnosed with anemia during physician consults. Anemia can be caused by a lot of different factors. Despite affecting millions of people worldwide, it is a highly treatable condition. It is important to know what anemia is and understand what anemia causes so that you can take control of your health and to prevent illness. It is also important to understand anemia symptoms so you know when you can seek anemia treatments. Continue reading so you can learn how to recognize and seek help for this common condition.
This article will discuss what anemia is, the anemia types, symptoms, causes and treatments.
What is Anemia?
Anemia is a problem with the blood cells, specifically the red blood cells. Red blood cells are important because they carry oxygen to the different tissues of the body. Oxygen is bound to hemoglobin, which is a protein found in red blood cells. Hemoglobin is an iron-rich protein that gives a red color to your blood. Anemia is a blood disorder wherein there is decreased hemoglobin in the body. The body lacks enough healthy red blood cells causing a decreased delivery of oxygen to the body, leading to a variety of symptoms that can make you feel unwell. Anemia in itself is not a disease but a manifestation of an underlying condition. Because of this, it is important to know the anemia causes to give the appropriate anemia treatments.
What are the Causes of Anemia?
A lot of different factors can cause anemia. These include the following:
- Iron Deficiency: This is the most common cause of anemia in the United States as well as worldwide. Around half of the people with iron deficiency in the United States have iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency anemia occurs because iron is important in producing hemoglobin. A lack of iron in the diet leads to decreased production of hemoglobin, leading to iron deficiency anemia.
- Vitamin Deficiency: Aside from iron, a lack of other vitamins can cause anemia. Vitamin B12, Vitamin C and folate are all helpful in having healthy red blood cells. Vitamin B12 and folate are needed to make healthy red blood cells, so a deficiency in these can lead to anemia. Vitamin C can reduce iron absorption, which can also lead to anemia. A significant deficiency in Vitamin C can also increase the risk of bleeding, which can further contribute to anemia.
- Blood loss: Blood loss is one of the causes of anemia. Trauma, heavy menstruation or other illnesses, such as bleeding ulcers, can cause blood loss. Anemia occurs because the loss of red blood cells exceeds the rate of production of red blood cells.
- Chronic Illness: Chronic illnesses can affect the body’s production of red blood cells. Cancer, chronic infections and kidney disease are examples of chronic illnesses that can lead to anemia. Kidney disease can cause anemia due to a deficiency in erythropoietin, a hormone made in the kidneys that stimulate red blood cell production. Chronic infections, inflammation and illness, such as cancer cause anemia due to many factors that lead to a short red blood cell life span, impaired red blood cell production and problems in the availability of iron.
- Blood disorders: Blood disorders such as thalassemia and sickle cell disease, affect the shape, size or distribution of red blood cells which can lead to improper binding of oxygen to hemoglobin. This leads to anemia as well.
- Medications or Drugs: Some medications can cause anemia due to a variety of ways. Some medications can cause an immune-mediated mechanism that leads the body to attack the red blood cells, leading to hemolysis, which is the destruction of red blood cells. Other medications, like those that suppress gastric acid or antacids, can affect the intestinal absorption of iron, leading to anemia.
- Poisons: Poisons such as arsenic and metals like lead, copper or chromium can cause anemia. Aside from decreased hemoglobin production, red blood cell destruction (hemolysis) is also one of the mechanisms poisons can cause anemia.
What are the Types of Anemia?
Anemia can be grouped into different types. The main categories of anemia are as follows:
- Microcytic anemia: Iron deficiency anemia, anemia of chronic disease, thalassemia and lead poisoning are examples of conditions that lead to microcytic anemia. In microcytic anemia, the red blood cells are seen as small and lack the bright red color of regular red blood cells.
- Macrocytic anemia: Examples of macrocytic anemia include folate/vitamin B12 deficiency, drug-induced anemia and anemia due to liver disease. In macrocytic anemia, the red blood cells are abnormally large and lack nutrients.
- Normocytic anemia: Examples of normocytic anemia include early stages of anemia of chronic disease, renal failure or aplastic anemia. In normocytic anemia, the red blood cells appear normal, and other mechanisms of anemia may play a role.
- Hemolytic anemia: Hemolytic anemia includes conditions such as sickle cell or thalassemia, G6PD deficiency or drug-induced anemia. In hemolytic anemia, there is the early destruction of red blood cells. This can be extravascular, where red blood cells can be destroyed outside of the circulation (in the liver or spleen) or intravascular, where red blood cells are destroyed inside the circulation.
What are the Symptoms of Anemia?
Anemia symptoms may be different for every case, depending on the anemia's cause and severity. Some common symptoms of anemia are the following:
- Shortness of breath.
When the hemoglobin levels are under 7-8 mg/dL, you can appear more pale than usual and have cold hands and feet. Severe anemia can lead to difficulty of breathing or irregular heartbeat. Hemolytic anemia can have signs of jaundice or icteric sclera due to red blood cell destruction.
What are the Treatments for Anemia?
Anemia treatments vary and depend on the cause.
- Diet and supplements: Diet and supplements can usually treat some forms of anemia. Iron deficiency anemia can be resolved with iron supplements. The same goes for folate or vitamin B12 anemia. Supplements can restore healthy red blood cell production.
- Removal of offending agents: Removal of medications and toxins that cause the anemia can correct the anemia as well.
- Blood transfusions: In blood loss or severe cases of anemia, blood transfusions may be helpful to restore the red blood cell pool.
- Medications: In anemia due to kidney failure, giving erythropoietin can help to induce red blood cell production. Another medication sometimes used is corticosteroids. It is important to consult a specialist before resorting to these medications, as they can have side effects.
Anemia may affect many people in the United States and worldwide, but the good thing is it is a treatable disease, especially if it is detected early. Early diagnosis and treatment are important and can have a significant effect on your health and well-being. If you are experiencing symptoms of anemia, consult your physician and have yourself tested. The more you know, the better equipped you will be in taking control of your health.
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