Anaemia

Anaemia 101: Symptoms, Causes, Stages & Treatment

Anaemia is a condition where the red blood cells in the body are lower than normal. Find out more about anaemia, its symptoms, causes, stages, and treatment options.

by Pragalath Kumar

What is Anaemia?

Anaemia is a blood condition where the number of red cells is lower than what is necessary for the body. The condition is reported as hematocrit – low haemoglobin. Haemoglobins are the protein within red blood cells that distributes oxygen in the body. Individuals with anaemia would also have a low haemoglobin count. It affects about one-third of the human population.

The following are the various types of anaemia that one can have:

There are also other conditions that lead to blood loss such as ulcers, haemorrhoids and gastritis that can be classified under one type of anaemia.

While anyone can have anaemia, certain groups have higher risks to develop anaemia. The four groups are as the following:

Women: Women experience blood loss regularly due to monthly periods and childbirth which can lead to anaemia. It is worsened when women have heavy periods and other medical conditions such as fibroids.

Infants and children up to the age of 2: The shift of diet for infants when they wean off from breast milk and shift to formula milk and solid food may result in a reduction of iron intake. Infants don’t take up iron from solid food easily. Iron is also an important element that helps in the growth spurts of children especially once they turn one.

Senior citizens: Older people especially those who are over 65 are more likely to consume iron-poor diets while having chronic diseases.

Patients on blood thinners: The medication includes drugs such as aspirin, clopidogrel, warfarin, heparin products, apixaban and betrixaban are more likely to have anaemia.

Symptoms and Signs 

The symptoms of anaemia vary according to the type. There are, however, general signs and symptoms that one would when they have anaemia.

  • fatigue 
  • shortness of breath 
  • feeling cold
  • Dizziness or weakness.
  • Headache
  • Sore tongue
  • Pale skin, dry skin, or easily bruised skin
  • restless legs syndrome)
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Insomnia
  • Pale skin
  • Leg cramps

There are also symptoms that are specific to the type of anaemia.

Risk Factors

The biggest risk for one to have anaemia is the lack of iron. This makes malnutrition the biggest factor in one having anaemia. Having a low intake of foods that are rich in folic acid, vitamin B12, and/or iron would hasten the development of nutritional anaemia.

Heavy alcohol intake can damage your liver, stomach and kidneys to the point that one would have anaemia. Alcohol also aids anaemia due to malnutrition but that is not to the point that the organs are affected.

Exposure to lead through contaminated water or paint can lead to anaemia. Living in a home with lead paint or having a water source contaminated with lead residue raises the risk of exposure to lead and anaemia.

Causes

It is established that chronic anaemia happens when there are diseases that affect the red blood cells. Red blood cells are formed in the bone marrow and circulate over a three-month span in the heart and the blood vessels before it is broken down. Any disruption to the process of red blood cell formation would cause anaemia.

The most common cause would be deficiency of iron and vitamin B12 as shown in Table 2. One may also get anaemia because the bone marrow is underproducing red blood cells and this is known as aplastic anaemia. Various types of cancer that cause bleeding and disrupt the production of red blood cells also lead to anaemia.

Hereditary genetic factors are causes for anaemia too. Examples include thalassaemia, G6PD deficiency, and hereditary spherocytosis. Individuals with G6PD experience hemolysis when they are exposed to certain food or medication. As for spherocytosis, it is a case of having abnormally shaped red blood cells

Cardiovascular related factors also can cause anaemia. Medical conditions such as heart failure, cardiac arrhythmias, and myocardial infarction (heart attack) can worsen the effects of anaemia. The weight gain during pregnancy along with increased fluid lowers the body’s concentration of red blood cells. That causes anaemia.

Diagnosis

One would be required to undergo a complete blood test that would reveal the amount, size and shape of red blood cells and the levels of vitamins B9, B12 and iron in the body. A blood and urine test would be required to check for hemolytic anaemia. A colonoscopy to see inside the large intestine or faecal occult blood test on your stool would be the required procedure to check on gastrointestinal bleeding. A bone marrow biopsy would be required in rare cases. It is for the physician to decide on the best procedure.

Treatment

Treatment for anaemia would differ according to causes. Those with iron deficiency need to take iron supplements and a diet consisting of food that is high in iron and food that helps to absorb iron. Those who have chronic kidney disease would be given iron through intravenous infusion. Injections of erythropoietin (EPO) hormone are also administered to stimulate the bone marrow to create more red blood cells. Another option is red blood cell transfusions. For those who developed anaemia due to radiation and chemotherapy against cancer, both the treatment needs to be stalled until the anaemia is resolved.

Prevention

Prevention of anaemia is not possible for the types that are inherited. For the types that are due to deficiencies of iron, B12 and B9, a diet with enough iron is sufficient. Complement it with Vitamin C food sources to help with absorption. Drink a lot of water to keep the haemoglobin levels up.

Limit or avoid the following type of food – 

  • Tannin containing items
  • Milk
  • Egg white
  • Fibre
  • Soy protein 

Increase the following food type:

  • Plant iron sources such as lentils, spinach and pistachios
  • Animal protein sources like lean beef and turkey
  • Citrus fruits, berries and other vitamin C-containing foods like peppers and tomatoes

It would be wise to consult a dietitian to ensure you consume an iron-rich diet.

The following are steps that you can take if you have a mild level of anaemia – 

  • Exercising regularly. If you are weak, do so cautiously. Check with your healthcare provider about ways to exercise safely.
  • Avoid exposure to chemicals that set off anaemia.
  • Practice frequent hand washing to avoid infection.
  • Maintain good dental care with regular visits to your dentist.
  • Keep your doctor in the loop on any changing symptoms.
  • Keep track of your symptoms by writing them down in a book.

For those who suffer from severe cases of anaemia and need home care, options such as home care nurses are available.  One should not despair. Take heed of what needs to be done so that you can overcome or mitigate this condition.

 

Medina Garrido, C., León, J., & Romaní Vidal, A. (2018). Maternal anaemia after delivery: prevalence and risk factors. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology: The Journal of the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 38(1), 55–59.

Retter, A., Wyncoll, D., Pearse, R., Carson, D., McKechnie, S., Stanworth, S., … British Committee for Standards in Haematology. (2013). Guidelines on the management of anaemia and red cell transfusion in adult critically ill patients. British Journal of Haematology, 160(4), 445–464.

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About the Writer
Pragalath Kumar
K Pragalath is an independent writer. He was a former journalist with a number of Malaysian news sites. He watches elections like how people watch football but dozes off over the matches.
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