Anemia Can Affect Anyone! Anemia or anaemia, from the Greek word meaning “without blood”, refers to a deficiency of red blood cells (RBCs) and/or hemoglobin. This results in a reduced ability of blood to transfer oxygen to the tissues, causing hypoxia; since all human cells depend on oxygen for survival, varying degrees of anemia can have a wide range of clinical consequences. Hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying protein in the red blood cells) has to be present to ensure adequate oxygenation of all body tissues and organs. Anemia is a common blood disorder, affecting an estimated 3.4 million Americans. Women and people with chronic diseases are at increased risk of the condition.
So How Do I Know If I Have Anemia And How Can I Avoid It? Anemia goes undetected in many people, and symptoms can be vague. Most commonly, people with anemia report a feeling of weakness or fatigue, general malaise and sometimes a poor concentration. People with more severe anemia sometimes report shortness of breath. Very severe anemia prompts the body to compensate by increasing cardiac output, leading to palpitations and sweatiness, and to heart failure.
Pallor (pale skin, mucosal linings and nail beds) is often a useful diagnostic sign in moderate or severe anaemia, but it is not always apparent. The only way to diagnose most cases of anemia is with a blood test. Generally, clinicians order a full blood count. Apart from reporting the number of red blood cells and the hemoglobin level, the blood count also measures the size of the red blood cells which is an important tool in distinguishing between the causes of anemia.
Anemia diminishes the capability of individuals who are affected to perform physical labor. This is a result of one’s muscles being forced to depend on anaerobic metabolism. The lack of iron associated with anemia can cause many complications, including hypoxemia, brittle or rigid fingernails, cold intolerance, impaired immune function, and possible behavioral disturbances in children.
Anemia affects 20% of all females of childbearing age in the United States. Because of the subtlety of the symptoms, women are often unaware that they have this disorder, as they attribute the symptoms to the stresses of their daily lives. Possible problems for the fetus include increased risk of growth retardation, prematurity, intrauterine death, rupture of the amnion and infection.
During pregnancy, women should be especially aware of the symptoms of anemia, as an adult female loses an average of two milligrams of iron daily. Therefore, she must intake a similar quantity of iron in order to make up for this loss. Additionally, a woman loses approximately 500 milligrams of iron with each pregnancy, compared to a loss of 4-100 milligrams of iron with each period. Possible consequences for the mother include cardiovascular symptoms, reduced physical and mental performance, reduced immune function, tiredness, reduced peripartal blood reserves and increased need for blood transfusion in the postpartum period.
Consumption of food rich in iron is essential to prevention of iron deficiency anemia; however, the average adult has approximately nine years worth of B12 stored in the liver, and it would take four to five years of an iron-deficient diet to create iron-deficiency anemia from diet alone.
Iron-rich foods include red meat; green, leafy vegetables; dried beans; dried apricots, prunes, raisins, and other dried fruits; almonds; seaweeds; parsley; whole grains; and yams. In extreme cases of anemia, researchers recommend consumption of beef liver, lean meat, oysters, lamb or chicken, or iron drops/tablets may be introduced. Certain foods have been found to interfere with iron absorption in the gastrointestinal tract, and these foods should be avoided. They include tea, coffee, wheat bran, rhubarb, chocolate, soft drinks, red wine, ice cream, and candy bars. With the exception of milk and eggs, animal sources of iron provide iron with better bioavailability than vegetable sources.
There are many different treatments for anemia, including increasing dietary intake of readily available iron and iron supplementation; the treatment is determined by the type of anemia that is diagnosed. If an increase in dietary intake is prescribed, then additionally increasing one’s intake of Vitamin C may aid in the body’s ability to absorb iron. In anemia of chronic disease, anemia associated with chemotherapy, or anemia associated with renal disease, some clinicians prescribe a recombinant protein version of erythropoietin, epoetin alfa, to stimulate red blood cell production. In severe cases of anemia, a blood transfusion may be necessary.