Anaemia is a condition that occurs when there are not enough healthy red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the organs in the body. It’s also defined as low haemoglobin concentration in the body and is the most common blood disorder.
Haemoglobin is what enables red blood cells to carry oxygen. This oxygen deficiency results in feelings of fatigue, tiredness, weakness, and feeling cold among others. There are different types of anaemia and different causes as well.
Here are the types, causes, and symptoms of anaemia as well as advice for managing the condition.
Types of anaemia
There are different types of anaemia, all with different causes ranging from the body not making enough haemoglobin to the body not producing enough healthy red blood cells to transport the oxygen. The problem lies either with the haemoglobin or the red blood cells themselves.
Aplastic anaemia: is a rare form that develops when the body stops producing sufficient numbers of red blood cells. The most common causes are viral infections, exposure to toxic chemicals, certain drugs and may also be as a result of an autoimmune disease.
Iron deficiency anaemia: is the most common type of anaemia and develops when you lack a sufficient amount of iron in the body. This can be due to blood loss or decreased iron absorption.
Sickle cell anaemia: is an inherited blood disorder in which the red blood cells become sickle crescent-shaped.
Vitamin deficiency anaemia: often develops because of low levels of vitamin B12 or folic or poor absorption of the same. It develops if you don’t eat enough foods containing vitamin B12 or folate and vitamin C.
Thalassemia: is an inherited blood disorder that causes the body to have less haemoglobin than usual.
Other types of anaemia may be caused by chronic conditions that cause your body not to have enough hormones to create red blood cells. Conditions like hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, advanced kidney disease, lupus, and other long-term illnesses can cause it. Also having chemotherapy. Blood loss related to conditions like ulcers, haemorrhoids or gastritis can also trigger anaemia.
Anyone can develop anaemia. It affects more than 30% of the world’s population most commonly in countries with fewer resources but it also affects those in wealthy nations. Other risk factors are:
Malnutrition: leading to a deficiency of certain vitamins and minerals including iron, folate, and vitamin C can cause anaemia.
Gender: Menstruating girls and women are more likely to suffer from it because of the monthly loss of blood. Women with really heavy periods are at a higher risk. Anaemia may also occur during pregnancy if nutrient levels are too low.
Race and family history: Sickle cell anaemia is typically found in people of African descent. It is possible to inherit it as well.
Chronic illness: Chronic diseases can lead to a shortage of red blood cells
Age: People over the age of 67 are at an increased risk of developing anaemia.
Heavy alcohol intake can damage your liver, stomach, and kidneys leading to anaemia.
Exposure to lead through contaminated water or paint increases the probability of developing anaemia.
The signs and symptoms vary depending on the cause and the severity of anaemia.
- Fatigue and loss of energy
- Unusually fast or irregular heartbeat particularly with exercise
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Sore tongue
- Leg cramps
- Unintended movement in the lower leg also known as restless leg syndrome
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Cold hands and feet (extremities)
- Strange cravings to eat dirt, ice, or clay (a medical condition called pica)
- Pale skin that may also be dry and easily bruised
Paleness is not only limited to the skin. If you gently pull down your lower eyelid, the skin should be a pinkish colour. If it’s a very light pink or white, that may be a sign of anaemia. Paleness may also be noted on the tongue, fingernails, palms of your hands, and mucous membranes inside the mouth.
When to see a doctor
In some instances, the person may have no outward symptoms of anaemia. You should consider seeing a doctor if you:
- Have unexplainable persistent fatigue
- Experience trouble breathing, rapid heart rate, and pale skin
- Have very heavy menstrual periods
- Are concerned about environmental exposure to lead
- Hereditary anaemia runs in your family
Treatment and management
Hereditary anaemia like sickle cell anaemia has no cure but is managed with medication to relieve pain and help prevent complications.
Anaemia caused by blood loss is treated with fluids, a blood transfusion, oxygen, and possibly iron
When anaemia is caused by iron deficiency, iron supplements may be recommended
Treatment, when anaemia is caused by decreased red blood cell production depends on the cause and severity
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