Anemia is a medical condition characterized by lower than normal hemoglobin level in the blood. It is one of the most common type of blood disorder. Derived from the Greek word anaima – meaning lack of blood, this results in decrease in Red Blood Cell (RBC) count in the body. As haemoglobin present inside the RBC acts as an Oxygen carrier, anemia leads to hypoxia, a situation when the oxygen supply is inadequate for the organs to function effeciently.
Types of anemia
Produced from the bone marrow, the lifespan of normal RBC is 120 days. Anemia leads to disruption in this cycle. Anemia is a disease process rather than a disease in itself. It can be classified as :
Anemia that occurs over a prolonged period of time is termed as chronic anemia while acute anemia occurs quickly. In case of chronic anemia, person suffering may not feel the difference unless the anemia becomes severe but acute anemic patients experience the symptoms quite early.
There may be many causes of anemia but the three main bodily mechanism that cause anemia are:
- Excessive destruction of RBCs (Haemolytic anemia)
- Inadequate production of RBCs (Aplastic anemia)
- Blood loss
Other likely causes of anemia could be
Poor diet deficient in iron and vitamins
Hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism
Excessive blood loss due to ulcers, heavy menstrual cycles, surgeries.
Chronic diseases such as cancer or rheumatoid arthritis
Medication side effects
Impaired immune system
Bone marrow diseases which include lymphoma, leukemia and multiple myeloma
Symptoms of anemia
It is surprising to note that some patients have no symptoms of anemia due to the body getting accustomed to the inadequate oxygen supply. In general the common symptoms of anemia are:
Loss of hair
Problem in concentration
Coldness in hands and feet
To confirm whether an individual is suffering from anemia or not, complete diagnosis can be done through Complete Blood Count (CBC) test. The test checks the hemoglobin level.
Treatment varies depending upon the type, cause and severity of anemia. Treatment ranges from changing dietary pattern for mild cases to surgery, in case the anemia is acute and severe.
A. Changes in diet
Deficiency of iron and vitamin is the most common cause of anemia. Individuals concerned need to increase the level either through supplements and medicines or by including iron and vitamin rich food in the diet as prescribed by the doctor, the later option being highly recommended by the doctors.
1. Increasing iron level
Spinach, tofu, turkey, red meat, cereals, peas, lentils, raisins and apricots are rich in iron content. Including these in the diet helps increase the iron level in the body.
2. Vitamin intake
Low level of Vitamins B12, Folic acid, and Vitamin C may lead to pernicious anemia. Including eggs and dairy products in the diet enhances Vitamin B12 level. Fortified bread, legumes, cereals, green leafy vegetables are rich in Folic acid. Besides, fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C help regulate anemia by stimulating iron absorption.
Certain antibiotics and hormones might be needed to administered to increase the RBC count in the affected individual.
C. Synthetic Erythropoietin injection
Erythropoietin is a glycoprotein hormone produced by the kidneys. Anemia leads to increased renal secretion of Erythropoietin. Injecting synthetic erythropoietin induces RBC production.
D. Blood transfusion
Blood is transfused intravenously from a healthy donor to an affected recipient after careful matching.
E. Stem cell transplantation
Similar to blood transfusion, stem cell transplantation is done to replace the faulty stem cells with the healthier ones. The healthy stem cells are collected from the donor and transferred to the concerned individual’s bone marrow via a chest vein. Once the donor stem cell reaches the affected person, it starts producing new blood cells.
In the most severe and life threatening situations like cancer and stomach ulcer, surgery is performed. Many a times it is impossible to control the bleeding by medication. In such situations surgery is the best solution.
Anemia due to iron and vitamin deficiency can be avoided. A proper diet comprising of leafy vegetables, legumes, cereals, citrus fruits, melons, berries and dried fruits is a healthy way to prevent anemia. Avoiding alcohol and caffeine also helps in reducing the chances of anemia.
However anemia due to genetic reasons like Sickle cell anemia cannot be prevented. If there has been a history of anemia in the family, it is advisable to consult the physician and take appropriate precautionary measures.
Whatever might be the cause of anemia, its better to be alert and notice the signals of our body. Avoiding or neglecting the symptoms would only proliferate the problem.