When the blood does not have enough healthy blood cells or hemoglobin, anemia starts to install in your body. Hemoglobin is the most important part of the red blood cells because it is responsible for binding the oxygen. Whenever the number of red blood cells is too few or your hemoglobin is low, then it means that your body does not get enough oxygen. This is how anemia starts to appear and you begin to develop the specific symptoms.
There are certain forms of anemia that are hereditary and it can appear in infants even since they are born. Anemia can appear in women who are in the childbearing years. Due to the blood loss from menstruation and the demands during the pregnancy, many women face with iron-deficiency anemia. In the case of adults, anemia can appear as a consequence of poor diet or other medical condition.
There are various forms of anemia. Therefore, the symptoms are also different, depending on the type of anemia you are dealing with:
- Pale or yellowish skin
- Irregular heartbeats
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Chest pain
- Cold hands and feet
At first, anemia can be so mild that it goes unnoticed. But symptoms worsen as anemia worsens.
It can happen that in the mild cases of anemia, individuals have little to no symptoms. Some forms of anemia can have specific symptoms unique to their type:
- Aplastic anemia – fever, frequent infections, and skin rashes
- Folic acid deficiency anemia – irritability, diarrhea, and a smooth tongue
- Hemolytic anemia – jaundice, dark colored urine, fever, and abdominal pains
- Sickle cell anemia – painful swelling of the feet and hands, fatigue, and jaundice
Causes of Anemia
As mentioned above, there are different types of anemia. Therefore, depending on the type of anemia you are experiencing, the causes are the following:
- Iron deficiency anemia, considered to be the most common type of anemia worldwide. Like the name says, it is caused by a shortage of iron in your body. Your bone marrow needs iron to make hemoglobin. Without adequate iron, your body can’t produce enough hemoglobin for red blood cells. This is a case that often occurs in many pregnant women if they do not receive iron supplementation. This type of anemia can also appear as a consequence of blood loss, such as from heavy menstrual bleeding, an ulcer, cancer and regular use of some over-the-counter pain relievers, especially aspirin.
- Vitamin deficiency anemia. In addition to iron, your body needs folate and vitamin B-12 to produce enough healthy red blood cells. When your diet lacks these components, vitamin deficienc anemia might appear.
- Anemia of chronic disease. Certain diseases — such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, Crohn’s disease and other chronic inflammatory diseases — can interfere with the production of red blood cells and lead to anemia.
- Aplastic anemia. This is a rare, life-threatening anemia. It occurs when your body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells. The causes that trigger this type of anemia include infections, certain medicines, autoimmune diseases and exposure to toxic chemicals.
- Anemias associated with bone marrow disease. A variety of diseases, such as leukemia and myelofibrosis, can cause anemia by affecting blood production in your bone marrow. The effects of these types of cancer and cancer-like disorders vary from mild to life-threatening.
- Hemolytic anemias appear when red blood cells are destroyed faster than the bone marrow is able to replace them. Certain blood diseases increase red blood cell destruction. You can inherit a hemolytic anemia, or you can develop it later in life.
- Sickle cell anemia is an inherited hemolytic anemia. It’s caused by a defective form of hemoglobin that forces red blood cells to assume an abnormal crescent (sickle) shape. These irregular blood cells die prematurely, resulting in a chronic shortage of red blood cells.
Anemia is a condition that has various risk factors. It is impotant to know them in order to prevent it.
- Following a diet low in iron, vitamin B-12 and folate.
- Intestinal disorders affect the absorption of nutrients in your small intestine and put you at risk of anemia.
- Menstruation causes the loss of red blood cells.
- Pregnancy. If you’re pregnant and aren’t taking a multivitamin with folic acid, you’re at an increased risk of anemia.
- Chronic conditions. If you have cancer, kidney failure or another chronic condition, you may be at risk of anemia of chronic disease. These conditions can lead to a shortage of red blood cells.Slow, chronic blood loss from an ulcer or other source within your body can deplete your body’s store of iron, leading to iron deficiency anemia.
- Family history.
- Other factors. A history of certain infections, blood diseases and autoimmune disorders, alcoholism, exposure to toxic chemicals, and the use of some medications can affect red blood cell production and lead to anemia.
- Age. People over age 65 are at increased risk of anemia.
Treatments for anemia
As soon as your doctor will identify the causes of your anemia, he will recommend you a specific treatment. Therefore, depending on what caused your condition, the treatment might include:
- Iron deficiency anemia – the treatment includes iron supplements or dietary changes. If the condition is due to loss of blood, the bleeding must be found and stopped.
- Vitamin deficiency anemias – treatments include dietary supplements and B-12 shots.
- Thalassemia – blood transfusions, folic acid supplements, removal of the spleen and, sometimes, blood transfusions and bone marrow transplants.
- Anemia of chronic disease – in this case the focus is on the underlying condition which needs to be treated and cured.
- Aplastic anemia – blood transfusions or bone marrow transplants.
- Sickle cell anemia – administering oxygen, pain relief, and intravenous fluids. Other treatments could include antibiotics, folic acid supplements, and blood transfusions.
- Hemolytic anemias – avoiding suspect medication, treating infections, immunosuppressant drugs. Plasmapheresis (blood-filtering) might be necessary in some cases.
When anemia is caused by nutritional deficiencies, you might be recommended to change to an iron-rich diet that will help you alleviate the symptoms. You can introduce in your diet the following foods that are high in iron:
- Iron-fortified cereals and breads
- Dark-green leafy vegetables, for instance, curly kale and watercress
- Pulses and beans
- Brown rice
- White and red meats
- Nuts and seeds
- Dried fruits, including apricots, raisins, and prunes