Anemia occurs when the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. The red blood cells transport oxygen to tissues which gives the body energy to function. Anemia, also known as low hemoglobin, can cause fatigue and weakness. If left untreated, it can be life-threatening.
Anemia is very common and affects an estimated one-third of people globally. It can be mild to severe, and it can be acute or chronic. It is usually caused by a combination of factors. There are different types of anemia, each of which causes a decline in red blood cell numbers:
- Aplastic anemia: Occurs due to the inability of the bone marrow stem cells to produce enough blood cells, making the body more susceptible to uncontrolled bleeding and infections. Aplastic anemia is a form of bone marrow failure.
- Iron deficiency anemia: The common type of anemia, which occurs when the body does not have enough iron to produce hemoglobin.
- Sickle cell anemia: This is a genetic blood disorder that results in an abnormality in the hemoglobin gene mutation that affects the red blood cells in the body. Red blood cells’ shape can be like sickles or crescent moons. The rigidity and stickiness of these sickle cells can delay or obstruct blood flow.
- Thalassemia: This is a hereditary blood disease that occurs when the body does not produce enough hemoglobin, a protein that is an essential component of the red blood cells.
- Vitamin deficiency anemia: This is characterized by a shortage of healthy red blood cells caused by low levels of vitamin B-12 and folate. Without these nutrients, the body generates red blood cells that are too big and do not function properly.
The cause of anemia will determine the appropriate treatment to resolve it. The healthcare provider may recommend changes in diet, taking supplements or medications, or blood transfusions. Nutritional anemias can be prevented by eating a healthy diet. In some cases, anemia may be a result of an underlying chronic disease. It is recommended to visit a doctor for a proper diagnosis.
Mild cases of anemia may not have any signs and symptoms. Depending on the type, cause and severity of the condition, symptoms may include:
- Dyspnea or shortness of breath, even with little activity
- Arrhythmia, a fast or abnormal heartbeat
- Chest discomfort
- Pale or yellow skin
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Pounding sound in the ear
- Cold hands and feet
Schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional if any of the signs and symptoms persist. As symptoms of anemia are similar to other diseases, it can be related to other underlying conditions.
In some cases, anemia is only discovered during an attempt to donate blood. The person may be informed that he or she cannot donate due to insufficient hemoglobin. It is recommended to consult a doctor if this happens.
There are different types of anemia, congenital and acquired. The most common cause of anemia is poor diet resulting to iron deficiency.
Anemia happens when the blood lacks sufficient red blood cells which can occur if:
- Red blood cell production in your body is insufficient
- The body loses red blood cells faster than they can be replenished, commonly when bleeding
- The body destroys red blood cells
The common causes of anemia are:
- Iron deficiency anemia: Iron is required by the bone marrow to produce hemoglobin. The body cannot make sufficient hemoglobin for red blood cells unless enough iron is consumed. Iron deficiency anemia is usually caused by excessive blood loss due to heavy periods, regular use of various over-the-counter pain medicines, ulcer, cancer, or other diseases that affects the body’s absorption of iron.
This kind of anemia develops in many pregnant women who do not take iron supplements. Iron deficiency anemia in pregnant women may raise the likelihood of issues such as premature birth or the delivery of babies with low birth weight. This is the most prevalent type of anemia. To avoid its recurrence, it is critical to identify the source of the iron deficit.
- Vitamin deficiency anemia: Megaloblastic anemia is a blood condition in which the bone marrow produces too big red blood cells. This occurs when someone don’t receive enough vitamin B12 and/or vitamin B9.
One of the reasons of vitamin B12 deficiency is pernicious anemia, which is an autoimmune disorder that inhibits the body from absorbing vitamin B12. The body requires folate and vitamin B12 nutrients to build sufficient healthy red blood cells. A diet deficient in these and other essential nutrients can result in less red blood cell formation.
- Anemia of inflammation: Red blood cell production can be slowed down by a variety of conditions, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, renal illness, Crohn’s disease, and other acute or chronic inflammatory disorders.
- Aplastic anemia: Infections, certain medications, autoimmune illnesses, and exposure to hazardous substances are all potential causes of aplastic anemia. This is a rare and serious condition characterized by the inability of the bone marrow stem cells to produce enough red blood cells.
- Anemias associated with bone marrow disease: Anemia can be caused by several diseases that impact blood production in the bone marrow. The effects of various cancers and cancer-like illnesses, such as leukemia and myelofibrosis, can range from minor to severe.
- Hemolytic anemias: This is a blood condition in which the red blood cells break down or die faster than the body can replenish them. Hemolytic anemia can be influenced by a lot of reasons, including hereditary disorders, infections, and some medications.
- Sickle cell anemia: This is a blood disorder that affects the red blood cells in the body. It is a result of an abnormality in the hemoglobin gene mutation. Hemoglobin clumps form, changing the shape of red blood cells from round and flexible to stiff, sickles or crescent moons. This causes the blood vessels and blood flow to get clogged. Sickled cells have a shorter lifespan than normal red blood cells.
Several factors affect one’s risk of having anemia, such as:
- Age: Individuals over the age of 65 are more likely to have iron-deficient diets and certain chronic conditions that enhance their risk of anemia.
- Family history: Having a blood-related genetic disorder that runs in the family makes a person more susceptible to anemia.
- Diet lacking in certain nutrients: Low intake of foods rich in iron, vitamin B-12, folate, and copper can result to anemia.
- Intestinal disorders: Anemia can occur due to intestinal illness that limits nutrient absorption in your small intestine, such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease.
- Menstruation: Heavy periods (menstrual bleeding) may cause blood loss. Women who have not had menopause are more likely than men and postmenopausal women to suffer from iron deficiency anemia.
- Pregnancy: Women may develop iron-deficiency anemia during pregnancy, especially without taking take a multivitamin with folic acid and iron.
- Chronic conditions: Prolonged blood loss from an ulcer or other internal source might deplete the body’s iron stores, resulting in iron deficiency anemia. Certain disorders can also cause a deficiency in red blood cells, such as cancer, kidney failure, autoimmune disease, or any chronic ailment.
- Other factors: Alcoholism, harmful chemical exposure, and the use of certain drugs can all reduce red blood cell formation and cause anemia. Susceptibility to anemia also increases with history of certain illnesses, blood diseases, or autoimmune disorders.