Learn About Ailments | Anemia


Anemia or anaemia (from Greek meaning without blood) is the condition in which the number of red blood cells, the amount of haemoglobin, and the volume of packed red blood cells in the blood are lower than normal levels. Anemia reduces the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood to tissues resulting in the patient feeling tired, weak, and short of breath.

In This Article
Did you know? Causes of anemia
Symptoms of anemia Diagnosis of anemia
Related anemia terms

•    Iron deficiency is the most common type of anaemia
•    Pregnant women are a high risk group for anaemia
•    Anaemia is a common problem for menstruating women and girls

Anaemia has several types and therefore different causes. Iron deficiency is the most common type of anaemia and occurs when the body has insufficient levels of iron to keep red blood cells from functioning correctly. Anaemia can also be due to a lack of Vitamin B12 or folate.

There is a variety of reasons why the body can lack sufficient iron including:

Blood loss (stomach and intestines)
The gastrointestinal tract contains the stomach and intestines and is responsible for digesting food. Bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract is the common cause of iron deficiency anaemia in men and for  post-menopausal women.

Bleeding in the stomach and intestines can be caused by:

•    Prolonged use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can lead to bleeding in the stomach. Aspirin and ibuprofen are examples of NSAIDs.

•    Stomach ulcers – Acid in the stomach can damage the stomach lining to form an ulcer which can occasionally bleed.

•    Cancer – Although rare, bleeding in the stomach and intestines can be causes by cancer (typically of the stomach or colon).

•    Menstruation – Women with particularly heavy periods can develop iron-deficiency anaemia.

During pregnancy, the body requires extra iron to ensure sufficient blood supply to the baby. Many women take an iron supplement during the 20th week of their pregnancy.

Although rare, dietary factors can cause a lack of iron leading to anaemia. Groups most at risk are the elderly and vegans. Pregnant women may need to increase iron-rich foods to avoid anaemia.

Symptoms of iron-deficiency anaemia include:

•    Feeling tired
•    Lethargic
•    Breathlessness (known as dyspnoea)
•    Irregular heart beat
•    Headaches
•    Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
•    Altered sense of taste on the tongue
•    Difficulty swallowing
•    Sore tongue
•    Strange non-food cravings, known as 'pica' (paper, clay)

There are certain physical changes that you may notice from iron-deficiency anaemia such as:

•    Changed complexion (pale)
•    Smooth tongue
•    Mouth ulcers
•    Dry nails
•    Change in shape to nails (spoon-shape)

Only a few of these symptoms are likely to develop with iron-deficiency anaemia and their severity will be dependent on how quickly the anaemia develops (e.g. chronic slow loss of blood from a stomach ulcer).

Iron deficient anaemia is diagnosed by a blood test to determine the number of red blood cells and haemoglobin present in the blood. To understand the cause of the anaemia, your GP will ask questions about diet, medicines, menstruation pattern (female), family history and blood donation.

Your GP may also need to carry our specific physical examinations to confirm a cause such as a rectal exam or pelvic exam (female). Should your doctor detect any abnormality during their examination they may refer you to a specialist to carry out further test on your digestive system

Blood cells

Therapies to consider
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If your doctor determines that you are  iron deficient, he or she may prescribe  an iron supplement to help get your  iron levels back on track. Iron levels  can be stabilized and maintained fairly  simply; but if you’re prone to anemia,  it’s important to have your iron levels  assessed at your annual checkup.
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