Anaemia is one of the most common blood diseases. It develops when your blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate amount of oxygen to the body tissues. Haemoglobin is the main constituent of red blood cells. It is a protein which helps in transportation of oxygen throughout the body. Abnormal red blood cell count or low haemoglobin contributes to lack of oxygen in the body. Symptoms of anaemia include fatigue, weakness and unexplained tiredness even without any exertion.
It is important to know what anaemia is before knowing its causes, symptoms and treatments. Anemia is a medical condition arising due to low concentration of red blood cells and haemoglobin in our body. There are different types of anaemia and each one has separate causes and treatments. Some forms of anaemia are considered normal and curable while some may be life-threatening and act as a cause of lifelong health problems.
Anaemia symptoms may vary depending on the cause and nature of your anaemia. Some Anaemia symptoms are:
- Pale skin
- A fast or irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Cognitive problems (Problems in Learning, Memorising & Perception)
- Cold hands and feet
- Leg Cramps
- Tingling sensation in lower and upper limbs
Different types of anaemia
There are more than 400 types of anaemia. Most common types of anaemia are:
- Iron deficiency anaemia: It is caused by deficiency of the iron in human body. Iron is necessary to the bone marrow for production of haemoglobin. Without adequate amount of iron in the blood, our body is unable to produce enough haemoglobin for the red blood cells.
- Vitamin deficiency anaemia: To produce sufficient numbers of healthy red blood cells our body requires folates and vitamin B-12. If our body fails to get enough folates, vitamin B-12 and other nutrients, there will be an alarming reduction in production of red blood cells.
- Anaemia of chronic diseases: This particular type of anaemia is triggered by certain chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, HIV/AIDS, Crohn’s disease, cancer and other chronic inflammatory diseases. These chronic diseases can restrict the production of red blood cells and eventually result in chronic anaemia. Kidney failure may also result in anaemia.
- Aplastic anaemia: This is rare yet lethal anaemia that occurs when the bone marrow loses its capacity to produce red blood cells. Aplastic anaemia is triggered by infections, drugs and autoimmune diseases.
- Anaemia associated with bone marrow disease: Diseases such as myelodysplasia, leukaemia and myelofibrosis can cause anaemia by decreasing blood production in our bone marrow. It may result in a mild alteration in blood production or completely stop the blood-making process.
- Other cancers like multiple myeloma, lymphoma and myeloproliferative disorders can also cause anaemia.
- Haemolytic anaemia: Faster destruction of red blood cells than its production results in this type of anaemia. Certain blood diseases like haemolytic anaemia can cause increased red blood cell destruction which results in haemolytic anaemia.
- Sickle cell anaemia: This anaemia is mostly inherited and is caused by defective haemoglobin that forces red blood cells to undertake an unusual crescent shape. There is a chronic shortage of red blood cells since these irregular red blood cells die prematurely.
- Other anaemia: There are several rarer forms of anaemia, such as thalassemia which is caused by defective haemoglobin.
Causes of Anaemia
Anaemia can be divided into three groups based on its causes:
- by blood loss
- by decreased red blood cell production
- by destruction of red blood cells
Undetected loss of red blood cells through bleeding for a long time is one of the foremost causes of anaemia. Causes of such chronic bleeding are:
- Gastrointestinal conditions such as gastritis, haemorrhoids ulcers and cancers
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or aspirin can cause ulcers and gastritis
- Excessive menstrual bleeding and bleeding during childbirth in case of multiple pregnancies
Faulty Red Blood Cell Production
At times the human body may produce very few blood cells or faulty blood cells due to a deficiency of vitamins and minerals which may result in anaemia. Conditions associated with these causes of anaemia include:
- Sickle cell anaemia
- Iron-deficiency anaemia
- Vitamin B deficiency
- Bone marrow and stem cell problems
Sickle cell anaemia: As discussed above, it results in disfiguration of red blood cells because of a genetic defect. They die prematurely, causing anaemia.
Iron-deficiency anaemia: This type of anaemia is often caused because of deficiency of iron in the body. It is often caused by blood loss, such as because of heavy menstrual bleeding, a polyp in digestive system, cancer, an ulcer or prolonged use of aspirin or drugs known as non- steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Causes of anaemia caused by iron deficiency are:
- An iron deficient diet
- The metabolic needs of pregnancy and motherhood that exhaust a woman’s iron stores
- Frequent blood donation
- Endurance training
- Digestive problems or surgical removal of parts of stomach or small intestine
- Certain drugs, foods and drinks
- Internal Bleeding
- Inability to absorb iron
Vitamin-deficiency anaemia: It occurs due to a deficiency in folate and Vitamin B-12 since they are needed for the formation of red blood cells. Types of Vitamin deficiency Anaemia include:
- Megaloblastic anaemia: Deficiency of Vitamin B12 or folate or both
- Pernicious anaemia: Poor absorption of vitamin B12 caused by digestive conditions such as Crohn’s disease or surgical removal of part of stomach or intestine, or HIV infection
- Dietary deficiency: A lack of meat or no meat in our diet may lead to a lack of vitamin B12, while lack of vegetables or overcooked vegetables may cause a deficiency of folate.
- Other causes: pregnancy, alcohol abuse, certain medications, intestinal diseases such as celiac disease or tropical spure
Bone marrow and stem cell problems: They may prevent the body from generating enough red blood cells. Stem cells found in bone marrow develop into red blood cells. If stem cells are few or defective, or are being replaced by other cells such as metastatic cancer cells, it may cause anaemia.
Other conditions: Anaemia usually occurs because of shortage of certain hormones which are necessary for red blood cell production. Causes of this type of anaemia include:
- Advanced kidney disease
- Chronic diseases, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer and diabetes
- Old age.
Anaemia treatment depends on the causes of anaemia
- Iron deficiency anaemia: It is treated with changes in diet and incorporating iron supplements in the diet. If loss of blood is the underlying cause of iron deficiency the sources of bleeding must be tracked down and stopped.
- Vitamin deficiency anaemia: It is treated with dietary supplements with increased vitamins and folates in one’s diet.
- Anaemia of chronic disease: There is no specific treatment for it. The underlying disease should be in focus. If the condition becomes severe, the patients may have to undergo a blood transfusion or may be injected with synthetic erythropoietin which may help stimulate red blood cell production.
- Aplastic anaemia: The patient may need blood transfusions to boost the level of red blood cells. A bone marrow transplant will be required if the bone marrow fails to produce healthy blood cells.
- Anaemia associated with bone marrow disease: Treatment may include simple medication, chemotherapy or bone marrow transplantation.
- Haemolytic anaemia: Treatment for Haemolytic anaemia may include avoiding certain medications, curing related infections and taking drugs to suppress the immune system that may be infecting your red blood cells. Depending on the severity of anaemia, a blood transfusion or plasmapheresis may be essential. In certain cases, the spleen has to be removed.
- Sickle cell anaemia: Its treatment may include the administration of oxygen and pain-relieving drugs. Depending on the severity, doctors may recommend blood transfusions, folic acid supplements and antibiotics.
- Thalassemia: This anaemia treatment may include blood transfusions, removal of spleen, folic acid supplements, bone marrow transplantation or drugs.
A healthy diet is essential for anaemic patients. Foods rich in Vitamin B12, folic acid and Vitamin C along with iron are essentials of an anaemia diet. The following are the fundamental super foods to prevent and cure anaemia.
Spinach: A rich source of calcium, Vitamins A, B9, E and C, iron, fibre and beta carotene, it helps to improve the overall health of your body. Drink spinach soup two times every day to fight anaemia.
Beetroot: It is a vegetable filled with iron content. It helps in repairing and reactivating your red blood cells. Once the red blood cells are activated, the supply of oxygen to all parts of the body increases. A glass of beetroot juice in your daily diet will help to fight anaemia.
Red Meat: Lamb, beef and other red meats are rich in iron content. They are also great sources of Vitamin B12. Try to include red meat and chicken liver at least two to three times a week in your daily diet.
Peanut Butter: It is a rich source of iron.
Tomatoes: Tomatoes are rich in Vitamin C which helps in easy absorption of iron.
Eggs: Eggs are storehouses of proteins and antioxidants which helps in stocking up vitamins in the bodies of anaemia patients.
Soy Beans: They are a great source of iron and vitamins. They have high iron content too. It contains phytic acid that helps in fighting anaemia.
Nuts: Nuts are a great source of iron. A handful of pistachio and apricot nuts everyday will increase the iron levels in the body.
Seafood: Some of the fatty fishes like salmon, tuna and sea foods like mussels and oysters are rich in iron. They help to boost iron levels in your body.
Honey: One tablespoon of honey added to a glass of fresh lemon juice on an empty stomach every morning will help in fighting anaemia.
Peaches, Prunes and Raisins: They are rich sources of iron. Have half a bowl of mixture of peaches, prunes and raisins in your breakfast every day to improve iron content in your body.
Molasses: Add Molasses to the baked dishes
Apple and Dates: Apple and dates help in boosting iron levels in the body.
We now know what anaemia is, and how it can be treated. Anaemia is a common disorder of blood but long-term anaemia may lead to depression and make one susceptible to different infections. It can also result in severe nerve damage. Do you think you are suffering from anaemia? Consult a doctor as soon as possible. Treatments of anaemia may range from taking supplements to medication. Along with it, try natural methods mentioned above to combat the problem.
All the treatments – medicines, injections and vaccines are for general information of the reader. Please consult a doctor and get a formal prescription before taking any medicines, supplements and injections.
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