Anemia is a disease characterized by an inadequate amount of red blood cells to efficiently supply oxygen to your body’s cells. It is typically a very minor disorder that can be treated easily. However, there are some more chronic types of anemia that are more severe in nature.
The first time that I realized something was wrong was when I was a teenager at the doctor’s office for a well check-up. After the doctor took several vials of blood, I passed out. The physician at the time just shrugged it off as me being afraid of needles and passing out at the sight of blood. Even though I tried to explain that that wasn’t the case, it was until a few years later that I realized I was anemic. When I became pregnant for the first time, I again passed out when the doctor drew blood for a pregnancy test. This time the doctor took the time to evaluate the situation properly. What he came to realize, was that not only this blood test, but also previous blood tests from my patient file that had been transferred to this doctor, showed that I was anemic and had been for quite some time.
Common Causes of Anemia
Red blood cells main function is to distribute oxygen to all of the tissues throughout your body. Red blood cells are produced in the spongy material found in long bones, known as bone marrow. Your body requires iron, B-12, folate and other nutrients in order to produce red blood cells. If your body is depleted of any of these nutrients, it can lead to anemia. The most common cause of anemia is an iron deficiency, which was the case in my particular situation. Bone marrow requires iron to produce hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that allows oxygen to be dispersed throughout your body. A deficiency in iron can be contributed to a nutritional insufficiency or blood loss. A loss of blood can be caused by many factors and can sometimes go undetected for a while. Obviously, if you are bleeding out you are going to realize it. However, blood loss can also be caused by a heavy menstrual cycle, a slow-bleeding ulcer, polyps or other internal bleeding. Your body also needs vitamin B-12 and folate to produce red blood cells. If you are not taking in enough nutrients or are unable to absorb B-12 properly in the small intestine, due to disorders such as Crohn’s disease, celiac or alcoholism, then this can also be a contributing factor. Pregnancy can cause or intensify anemia due to a higher demand on red blood cells from increased blood volume in the mother and increased hemoglobin needed for a growing fetus. A more chronic form of anemia can be caused by diseases such as cancer, HIV, rheumatoid arthritis and kidney failure. More severe forms of anemia can be triggered by blood disorders or disease processes in the bone marrow such as Leukemia. Some forms of anemia can also be inherited such as sickle cell anemia.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Symptoms of anemia include exhaustion, pale skin, irregular heartbeat (your heart is trying to overcompensate and is pumping faster), dizziness, cold hands and feet and headaches. In more extreme cases, you may have shortness of breath or chest pain. However, sometimes the symptoms are so minute or general that they may go unnoticed. Anemia can be diagnosed by your doctor through a complete blood panel. Your hemoglobin and hematocrit (the number of red blood cells in your blood) lab values will be decreased in the case of anemia. Most cases of anemia can be treated fairly easily by fixing the causing factor. Most cases caused by a nutrition deficiency can be fixed with proper diet or supplements. Iron can be found in organ meats such as liver and green leafy vegetables. You can also take an iron supplement, but many people find this difficult to stomach and it can cause constipation. I took iron during both pregnancies, but now just try to eat an iron-rich diet. If your body cannot absorb vitamin B-12 properly, then you can get injections. More chronic forms may require blood transfusions or treatment for the underlying illness. The most important thing is to get a full check-up to find out what is causing the anemia. Most cases are nothing serious, but it is imperative to find out what is causing the anemia and treat it properly.
Mayo Clinic, “Anemia,” http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anemia/basics/definition/con-20026209