|Other Terms :||Anaemia|
|Content Below :||What is Anemia · Signs of Anemia · What Causes Anemia · Nutritional Anemia Types|
What is Anemia
Anemia (also spelled ‘anaemia’) is not a disease. It is a condition in which there is an unusually low number of red blood cells circulating in the body, or where the blood cells do not contain enough hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the iron-rich pigment that helps red blood cells carry oxygen from lungs to the rest of the body, and gives blood its red color.
Anemia causes the body to be short of oxygen as the blood cannot carry enough oxygen for the body’s needs.
Signs of Anemia | Symptoms of Severe Anemia
Regardless of anemia causes, the different anemia types all share similar symptoms arising from the body’s tissues and organs not getting enough oxygen. Common signs of anemia include :
- feeling weak or tired
- shortness of breath during exercise
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- pallor or pale skin
- low body temperature that leads to cold hands and feet
Symptoms of severe anemia include :
- dizziness or fainting spells
- shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing
- heart palpitations (irregular heartbeat) or rapid heart rate
- angina or chest pains
- painful leg cramps especially during exercise
Not everyone will have all the same signs of anemia. In addition, different anemia types might experience other symptoms as well, such as a desire to eat inedible substances like dirt, ice, clay, or paint, in the case of iron deficiency anemia.
What causes anemia? There are many possible anemia causes that result in over 400 anemia types, but all these are tied to three main causes or a combination of them :
- Excessive or long-term bleeding
- Not enough, or faulty, red blood cells being produced
- High rates of red blood cell destruction (known as hemolysis)
Anemia causes can also be classified as being of either non-nutritional or nutritional origin.
Non-nutritional anemia can be due to abnormal bleeding, such as from a serious injury, heavy menstrual periods, hemorrhoids, stomach ulcers, or cancer of the stomach or colon, or because of an inherited condition.
One of the hereditary anemia causes, mostly in people of African descent, is sickle cell anemia, a blood disorder characterized by red blood cells that are sickle or crescent shaped. These break down faster than normal red blood cells, causing a chronic shortage of blood cells and signs of anemia. Sickle cell anaemia is therefore a type of hemolytic anaemia.
Thalassemia is another inherited disorder, where red blood cells cannot mature and grow properly.
Non-nutritional anemia can also be due to diseases, including those that affect the kidney or bone marrow, which diminishes the production of red blood cells. Chemotherapy, viral infections, and medications may similarly affect the bone marrow and lead to what is known as aplastic anaemia.
Diet-related or Nutritional Anemia
Diet-related, or nutritional anemias are those that stem from a deficiency of some nutrient such as iron, vitamin B12, folic acid, or manganese.
Nutritional anemia can often be addressed by taking foods or supplements that reverse the deficiency, unless the anaemia was due to malabsorption caused by digestive tract disorders, or health conditions that hinder the usage of the nutrients.
The more common diet-related anemia types are :
- Iron Deficiency Anemia: Symptoms of severe anemia can result if there is lack of iron. The bone marrow needs iron to make red blood cells. Iron deficiency is one of the most common anemia causes worldwide especially in women, particularly pregnant women. In the U.S. alone, over 20 million women have this form of anaemia. Even when iron is not lacking, iron deficiency anemia symptoms may arise from shortage of other nutrients, such as copper and vitamin B2, that are needed for the mobilization of iron.
- Folate Deficiency Anemia: Besides iron, folic acid, or folate is also important for proper production of hemoglobin, and hence of healthy blood cells. Heavy drinkers, older adults, and pregnant women are at greater risk of this anemia. Diet plans to fight it should include more dark green leafy vegetables, legumes and organ meat.
- Pernicious Anemia: This is less common and caused by deficiency of vitamin B12 which is needed for production of hemoglobin and red blood cells. Vitamin B12 is mostly found in meat products. Apart from vegetarians, those more at risk of pernicious anemia are older adults and people with gastrointestinal disorders that interfere with absorption of food or production of Intrinsic Factor, a protein in the stomach that helps the uptake of vitamin B12.
Deficiency of other nutrients can lead to nutritional anemia as well. A list of all the nutrients that are important to prevent anemia are charted in the next page.
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