Anemia is a condition where blood lacks an adequate number of hemoglobin rich red blood cells, thus decreasing the amount of oxygen which is so vital to the proper functioning of our bodily tissues. Within each red blood cell is a protein called hemoglobin which is rich in iron and gives blood its red color. Hemoglobin is what enables red blood cells to carry oxygen from the lungs to all tissues of the body and carries carbon dioxide from the tissues back to the lungs.
Anemia is the most common of all blood conditions affecting some three and a half million Americans, especially women, children and the chronically ill. It most commonly causes weakness and fatigue.
There are several main causes of anemia, one of which is due to blood loss, which can be slow and happen over a long period of time. Common causes of this would include problems with the gastrointestinal tract, such as colon and stomach cancer, ulcer disease, gastritis (inflammation of the stomach), and hemorrhoids. Heavy menstruation is another common cause. Rapid blood loss from surgery or injury can also cause anemia and usually necessitates immediate blood transfusion as a life saving measure.
Decreased or faulty production of red blood cells can also contribute to anemia. Some of these common conditions include certain vitamin and iron deficiencies, bone marrow diseases (often associated with some cancers), and chronic kidney and thyroid disease.
Destruction of red blood cells faster than the body can produce them also causes anemia. Such conditions can also be due to chronic liver and kidney disease, as well as inherited diseases such as sickle cell anemia and a blood disorder called Thalassemia.
Some of the more common symptoms of anemia are: fatigue, weakness, pale skin, shortness of breath, and dizziness.
Often, the diagnosis of anemia is made on a routine blood test, where the patient had no obvious symptoms. This can occur because the anemia develops over a very long time allowing the body to compensate for the lack of oxygen to its tissues.
Once the diagnosis is made, further tests will be done to help determine the cause and best treatment for the anemia.
Anemia will be treated according to what has been determined to cause it. Iron supplements for iron deficiency anemia or folic acid and vitamin C supplements may be all that’s necessary to cure some types of anemia. In other cases, curing the underlying disease will help to improve the anemia.
Blood transfusion may be necessary for more severe forms of anemia to rapidly increase the number of functioning red blood cells and help to more quickly alleviate the symptoms of the disease.
See your doctor if you have any of the above mentioned symptoms and expect a complete workup and proper treatment plan.