Anemia happens when the number of healthy red blood cells in your body is too low. Red blood cells carry oxygen to all of the body’s tissues, so a low red blood cell count indicates that the amount of oxygen in your blood is lower than it should be. Many of the symptoms of anemia are caused by decreased oxygen delivery to the body’s vital tissues and organs.
Anemia is measured according to the amount of hemoglobin, which is the protein within red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues. According to the Cleveland Clinic, about 3.4 million Americans suffer from anemia. Women and people with chronic diseases such as cancer have the highest risk of developing anemia.
Dietary iron, vitamin B-12, and folate are essential for red blood cells to mature in the body. Normally, 0.8 to 1 percent of the body’s red blood cells are replaced every day, and the average lifespan for red cells is 100 to 120 days. In general, any process that has a negative effect on this balance between red blood cell production and destruction can cause anemia.
Causes of anemia are generally divided into those that decrease red blood cell production and those that increase red blood cell destruction.
Factors that decrease red blood cell production include:
- inadequate stimulation of red blood cell production by the hormone erythropoietin, which is produced by the kidneys
- inadequate dietary intake of iron, vitamin B-12, or folate
On the other hand, any disorder that destroys red blood cells at a rate that’s faster than they’re made can cause anemia. Factors that increase red blood cell destruction include:
- hemorrhage from:
- gastrointestinal lesions
- excessive uterine bleeding
- cirrhosis, which involves scarring of the liver
- fibrosis, or scar tissue, within the bone marrow
- hemolysis, which is the rupture of red blood cells that can occur with some medications or Rh incompatibility
- disorders of the liver and spleen
- genetic disorders such as:
- glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency
- sickle cell anemia
Overall, however, iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia. Iron intake is a major index for the health assessment of nations. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 2 billion people worldwide have anemia, and many have it because of iron deficiency.
People with anemia appear pale and may often complain of being cold. They may also have lightheadedness or dizziness, especially when they are active or standing up. Some people with anemia have unusual cravings such as wanting to eat ice, clay, or dirt. They often complain of feeling tired and have problems with constipation and concentration. Some anemias can cause inflammation of the tongue, resulting in a smooth, glossy, red, and often painful tongue.
If anemia is severe, fainting may occur. Other symptoms include brittle nails, shortness of breath, and chest pains. Blood oxygen levels can be so low that a person with severe anemia can have a heart attack.
A physical exam that your doctor does may show:
- high or low blood pressure
- pale skin
- increased heart rate
- heart murmur
- enlarged lymph nodes
- enlarged spleen or liver
- atrophic glossitis of tongue
People with symptoms of anemia should seek medical attention.
Any affecting Organ:
Hemoglobin is an iron-rich protein in red blood cells. It helps red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Anemia also can cause shortness of breath, dizziness, headache, coldness in your hands and feet, pale skin, chest pain, weakness, and fatigue (tiredness).
Prevention / Treatment:
The treatment for anemia depends on its cause. Anemia caused by inadequate amounts of dietary iron, vitamin B-12, and folate is treated with nutritional supplements. In some cases, injections of B-12 are needed as it isn’t absorbed properly from the digestive tract. Your doctor and nutritionist can prescribe a diet that contains proper amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. A proper diet can help prevent this kind of anemia from recurring.
In some cases, if the anemia is severe, doctors use erythropoietin injections to increase red blood cell production in the bone marrow. If bleeding occurs or the hemoglobin level is very low, a blood transfusion may be necessary.