What Causes Anemia and How Can it be Treated?
Anemia is a medical condition that is very common in many people. It is a condition in which you do not have enough of the healthy red blood cells in your blood that could carry adequate amount of oxygen to your tissues. It is the most common type of blood condition that occurs in 3.5 million Americans every year.
Definition of Anemia:
When there is a significant decrease in the number of red blood cells or haemoglobin in your blood that causes the inability of your blood to carry oxygen to body tissues, it is called anemia.
When the haemoglobin level in men is less than 13.5 g/100 ml and in women is less than 12.0 g/100 ml, it is recognised as anemia.
Signs and Symptoms of Anemia:
Depending on the cause and type of anemia, there can be different signs and symptoms of this medical condition. These can be –
- Fatigue is one of the common symptoms of Anemia
- Lethargy, laziness, sluggishness
- Pale skin is also a common symptom of Anemia
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular or fast heartbeat, palpitation
- Cold hands and feet
- Chest pain
- Cognitive problems, poor concentration.
What can Cause Anemia?
More than 400 types of anemia are there that are mostly caused by three categories of reasons. These are –
Anemia Caused by Blood Loss
When red blood cells are lost through slow undetected bleedings over a long period of time, it can cause anemia. Ulcer, gastritis, haemorrhoids, stomach and other cancers, chronic medical conditions are common reasons that can cause undetected bleeding for a long period leading to Anemia. Continued intake of ibuprofen, aspirin or other NSAIDs or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can also lead to ulcer and gastritis and thereby cause bleeding and gradual anemia. Menstrual bleeding, when occurring in excess and also heavy bleeding during childbirth can cause anemia.
Anemia Caused by Faulty and Decreased Production of Red Blood Cell
If your body is not producing enough RBC or if the produced RBC is not functioning properly, it can cause anemia. When there is a lack of vitamins and mineral supply for the production of RBC, the red blood cells can be decreased in production or become faulty. The anemic conditions caused by this reason are –
- Iron-Deficiency Anemia – When there is not enough iron supply to the bone marrow, it cannot produce haemoglobin, the main component of RBC that carries oxygen.
- Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Problems – It is a severe problem that can cause anemia in which problems in the stem cell and bone marrow can prevent the body from producing enough red blood cells. There can be different types of anemia associated with this type, one of which is the metastatic cancer that replaces the stem cells with cancerous cells, causing anemia. In the people of African, Mediterranean, Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern descent, Cooley's anemia can be seen that is caused by Thalassemia – an immature growth of RBCs. Aplastic anemia is also a type of anemia that is caused by bone marrow defects. Leukemia or blood cancer is also a cause of anemia, as it damages the production of blood cells.
- Sickle Cell Anemia – Affecting mainly African-Americans and Hispanic Americans, it is mostly a genetic defect that is inherited in these races. Along with not carrying oxygen to the body parts, in this type of anemia, crescent-shaped RBCs can be stuck in blood vessels, causing pain.
- Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency – Not only iron, but vitamin B12, folic acid and folate are also important in making the RBC and also in helping the haemoglobin to function properly. Thus if any of these are not supplied to the body in the required quantity, it can prohibit the production of red blood cells, causing this type of anemia. The megaloblastic anemia, Pernicious anemia etc. are of this type.
There are different health conditions Crohn's disease, alcohol intake, dietary causes, medical conditions, drugs and others that can lead to these types of anemia. In some cases, it is also seen that the unusual or abnormal shape of the intestine is the cause of impaired or improper absorption of vitamin B12 and hence, as a result, anemia occurs. Strict vegetarians are frequently diagnosed with anemia, as they do not get ample supply of vitamins and minerals that are found in abundance in non-vegetarian food. Cancer patients, who undergo chemotherapy treatments, find that their healthy red blood cells are also damaged along with the cancerous cells and thereby lead to anemia.
Anemia Caused by Destruction of RBCs
If the RBCs are fragile and prematurely rupture due to inability to withstand circulatory system, it causes hemolytic anemia. This can occur since birth or as an acquired condition like liver and kidney disease, infections, snake or spider venom, drugs or certain foods.
How is the Diagnosis of Anemia Made?
If you have a feeling of dizziness and other symptoms, you must contact the doctor immediately. The doctor will at first physically diagnose the patient. Most of the time gastrointestinal problems and difficulties are associated with the cause of anemia. It causes excessive bleeding and as a result, anemia can be associated with it. Apart from these physical conditions, there are also other factors that the doctor considers as important physical factors and they are the heart murmurs, heart rates, skin colour and also blood pressure.
However, if the doctor finds that the symptoms indicate to an obvious possibility of anemia, the doctor then asks for further tests.
- Blood smear
- Bone marrow tests
- Complete blood count
- Direct antiglobulin test
- Iron test
- Reticulocyte count test.
Testing the levels of minerals and vitamins like iron, vitamin B12, folic acid can also determine if it is anemia or not. However, the complete blood count or CBC test makes sure about the count of red blood cells and the level of haemoglobin.
How can Anemia be Treated?
Anemia is a very common phenomenon amongst many people. Depending on the cause of anemia, the treatment is recommended. If loss of blood is the cause of anemia, it is treated by repairing the cause through medication or by surgery. In other cases -
- Treatment for Iron Deficiency Anemia – Iron is supplied through diet or through supplements.
- Treatment for Vitamin Deficiency Anemia – By giving dietary supplements and by increasing the amount of nutrients that are deficient in the body, anemia can be treated.
- Treatment for Aplastic, Hemolyic, Sickle Cell Anemia – The only way to treat this type of is blood transfusion. A bone marrow transplant can also be a possible option.
- Treatment for Anemia Associated with Chronic Disease – If the anemia is a result of some other diseases, it is important that the cause is treated.
- Treatment for Anemia Associated with Bone Marrow Damage – In these cases, the bone marrow difficulties need to be treated with medication, chemotherapy, stem cell transplant and other options.
Anemia is a condition that can lead to severe problems if not treated on time. But with proper medication and treatment, it can be managed and treated successfully.