Anemia

Anemia is caused by a deficiency of red blood cells or haemoglobin in the blood. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen to the body's cells and are therefore essential for survival. As for haemoglobin, it is a protein that is found in red blood cells that carries oxygen.

Causes

Anemia is often the result of an underlying problem.

Haemorrhage: Significant blood loss may lead to anemia.

  • Many women suffer from anemia as a result of heavy menstrual periods.
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding due to ulcerative colitis, diverticulosis, colon cancer or taking certain medications may also cause anemia.
  • Haemophilia and haemorrhoids are other examples of problems that could lead to haemorrhages.

Deficient Red Blood Cell Production:

  • Anemia may be caused by an iron deficiency. In fact, iron deficiency is one of the leading causes of anemia. This type of anemia is known as iron deficiency anemia or hypoferric anemia. The body needs iron to make red blood cells. When the body does not receive enough iron, it can no longer produce sufficient red blood cells.
  • Vitamin B12 is another nutrient that is crucial in the production of red blood cells. A vitamin B12 deficiency leads to megaloblastic anemia which is often related to a folic acid deficiency.
  • Bone marrow is responsible for red blood cell production. When the bone marrow does not produce to full capacity or if it has been partially destroyed (by a cancer treatment, for example), it no longer produces enough red blood cells. This is known as aplastic anemia.
  • Serious kidney problems can also lead to anemia. In fact, the kidneys release a hormone by the name of erythropoietin that stimulates the bone marrow to make red blood cells when necessary. If the kidneys are not functioning properly, this hormone is no longer released, ceasing the production of red blood cells.

Symptoms

Generally speaking, the symptoms are the same regardless of the underlying cause or type of anemia:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Pallor

Diagnosis

Anemia is a condition that requires a medical diagnosis. A full blood count is ordered to establish whether a person is anemic. These blood tests will look at the number, size and shape of the red blood cells. Other blood components are also analysed in an effort to provide the physician with a clearer idea of what may be causing the anemia.

Treatment

Treatment varies and is based on the type of anemia. Iron supplements may be useful, particularly for those with iron deficiency anemia. In cases where there are vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiencies (megaloblastic anemia), supplements may also prove helpful. Improving one's diet by increasing one's intake of foods that are high in iron, folic acid and vitamin B12 may also be an option.

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