Anemia is a condition of having a lower than normal amount of circulating red blood cells (RBC). This can be due to either your body not making adequate RBCs, having a source of bleeding that surpasses the body’s ability to replenish them or that your body is destroying RBCs. All of these conditions result in the oxygen carrying component of circulation being compromised. If anemia is present, symptoms may include headache, fatigue and exhaustion. There may be shortness of breath or irregular heartbeats. As anemia worsens, there may be pain and or pallor or paleness to the skin. Long term presence of anemia may damage systems such as the brain, heart and other organs. Severe anemia may lead to death.
Iron deficiency anemia is the most common form worldwide. As iron stores are depleted or inadequate in the body, the bone marrow cannot make hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying component of the RBC. The most common reason for low iron is that of blood loss. This is usually caused by bleeding in the digestive or urinary tract, surgery, trauma, heavy menstrual periods or cancer.
Vitamin deficiency anemia is from inadequate levels of folate and vitamin B-12. These substances are also needed in addition to iron to produce healthy RBCs. This anemia is typically due to dietary deficiencies. Some individuals may have a problem with B-12. Although they may be consuming proper amounts, their body cannot properly process the vitamin. This is known as pernicious anemia.
Anemia of chronic disease may be a sign of underlying problems such as cancer, HIV and AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, Crohn’s disease or other inflammatory diseases. Obviously, other than treating the anemia itself, it is necessary to discover the source of the problem and treat the root cause.
There are a group of hemolytic anemias that cause RBCs to be destroyed faster than they can be replaced. These diseases include thalassemia, sickle cell disease, G6PD deficiency, malaria, and acquired and immune hemolytic anemias, to name a few.
Prevention is not possible for many types of anemia. A vitamin rich diet may minimize the development of the diet-deficient anemias. This would include foods or supplements including iron, folate, B-12 and Vitamin C. Treatments, depending on the type of anemia, may range from simple iron supplements to transfusions, medication, marrow transplants and possibly surgical intervention.
As fatigue is a common complaint for many people, there are also many causes and contributions to having this symptom. If you have other chronic issues or illnesses, it is important to keep anemia in mind as a possible effect of these diseases. Your primary care provider can start the screening process when it is appropriate by ordering some simple blood tests as the first step to diagnosis and treatment.
More info: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20351360.
Bradford Croft, DO
East Flagstaff Family Medicine