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Anemia - Symptoms, Causes, Prevention, and Treatment

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Anemia - Symptoms, Causes, Prevention, and Treatment

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Anemia is a condition where the red blood cells in the body are too low. This article details more about anemia symptoms and available treatment options.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Sneha Kannan

Published At August 22, 2023
Reviewed AtMarch 4, 2024

What Is Anemia?

Anemia is a condition where the red blood cells (RBC) are too low in the body. As these cells carry oxygen to different organs of the body, anemia results in the amount of oxygen in the blood getting lower than normal. Most of the symptoms caused are due to decreased oxygen supply to the body's vital organs.

Anemia is diagnosed by measuring the amount of hemoglobin, which is a protein found in RBC and is responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. It is estimated that more than 1.6 billion people are affected by anemia worldwide. Women and people with chronic diseases like cancer are at risk of developing this condition.

What Are the Types of Anemia?

There are several types of anemia, including:

  • Iron-Deficiency Anemia: Caused by a deficiency of iron in the body, which is essential for red blood cell production.

  • Hemolytic Anemia: Occurs when the rate of destruction of red blood cells is faster than normal; it may be due to autoimmune diseases, infections, and genetic disorders.

  • Aplastic Anemia: Inability of the bone marrow to produce enough blood cells.

  • Sickle Cell Anemia: An inherited form of anemia where red blood cells are abnormally shaped leading to insufficient oxygen supply.

  • Anemia of Chronic Illness: Occurs in cases of chronic illness such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, or kidney diseases.

  • Pernicious Anemia: It results from a lack of intrinsic factor, a protein that helps to absorb vitamin B12 in the intestine.

What Causes Anemia?

About 0.8 to 1 % of the body's RBC are replaced each day, and the normal lifespan for red cells is 100 to 120 days. Any procedure that negatively affects this balance between red blood cell production and destruction can cause anemia. The factors that typically decline red blood cell production are:

1. The hormone erythropoietin does not adequately stimulate the production of red blood cells.

2. Consuming a diet lacking in iron, vitamin B12, or folate.

3. Hypothyroidism.

4. Endometriosis.

5. Accidents.

6. Gastrointestinal injuries.

7. Menstruation.

8. Childbirth.

9. Excessive uterine bleeding.

10. Surgery.

11. Liver cirrhosis.

12. Fibrosis of the bone marrow.

13. Liver and spleen disorders.

14. Thalassemia.

15. Sickle cell anemia.

Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia, as it accounts for nearly 50 % of all anemia cases.

What Are the Symptoms of Anemia?

People with anemia appear pale and may often feel cold. They may likewise experience:

  • Dizziness, particularly when active or standing up.

  • Strange desires, for example, wanting to eat ice, earth, or dirt.

  • Trouble concentrating.

  • Tiredness.

  • Constipation.

  • Inflammation of the tongue.

  • Syncope.

Some of the other symptoms are:

  • Brittle nails.

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Chest pains.

  • Heart attack.

  • High or low blood pressure.

  • Yellowish discoloration of the skin (jaundice).

  • Increase heart rate.

  • Heart murmur.

  • Enlarged lymph nodes, spleen, or liver.

How Is Anemia Diagnosed?

A diagnosis of anemia starts with both the health history and family health history, alongside a physical exam. To diagnose this condition and identify the cause, the doctor might suggest the following tests:

  • Complete Blood Count (CBC) - To check the number and size of the red blood cells. It likewise shows if levels of white blood cells and platelets are normal.

  • Serum Iron Levels - To rule out iron deficiency as the cause.

  • Ferritin Test - To check the iron stores.

  • Folic Acid Test - To know if serum folate levels are low.

  • Stool Test for Occult Blood - Blood in stools indicates bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract, which can also cause anemia. It indicates conditions like peptic ulcers, ulcerative colitis, and colon cancer.

If needed, the doctor might also suggest to get the following tests done:

  • Upper GI endoscopy.

  • Barium bowel purge.

  • Chest X-rays.

  • CT scan of the abdomen.

How Is Anemia Treated?

Anemia due to iron, vitamin B12, and folate deficiency is treated with nutritional supplements. At times, B12 injections are required. Iron supplements are prescribed to replenish the iron stores in the body. The doctor and nutritionist can endorse a diet that contains the correct amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. An appropriate diet can help prevent this sort of anemia from repeating.

At times, if the anemia is severe, doctors use erythropoietin injections to increase red blood cell production in the bone marrow. If bleeding happens or the hemoglobin level is low, a blood transfusion may be important. Transfusion rapidly increases the red blood cells.

Erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs) stimulate the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells and are used to treat chronic kidney diseases.

What If Anemia Left Untreated?

If left untreated, anemia leads to various complications, such as:

  • Fatigue.

  • Weakness.

  • Shortness of breath

  • Dizziness.

  • Pale skin.

In severe cases, functions of vital organs like the heart and brain are affected, leading to heart failure or cognitive impairment.

  • Complications During Pregnancy: Anemia in pregnancy can increase the risk of preterm birth, low birth weight, and maternal complications like preeclampsia.

  • Delayed Growth and Development: In children with untreated anemia, growth is impaired, affecting physical, cognitive, and behavioral milestones.

  • Reduced Exercise Tolerance: Anemia limits the oxygen supply to the muscles during physical activity, leading to decreased exercise tolerance and performance.

How to Prevent Anemia?

Anemia can be prevented by following simple measures.

  • Take iron-rich foods, especially red meat, poultry, fish and shellfish.

  • Other foods high in iron are peas, lentils, beans, tofu, green leafy vegetables, fortified cereals and breads.

  • Making healthy lifestyle choices and a balanced diet can improve the symptoms of anemia.

Conclusion:

In summary, anemia is characterized by a deficiency in the number of red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood due to several reasons. This leads to impaired oxygen supply to vital organs. The symptoms vary from person to person. If the symptoms are ignored or left untreated, it results in fatigue, weakness, cardiovascular diseases, and cognitive impairment. Prompt diagnosis and treatment are essential to managing anemia effectively. This helps prevent the potential complications. In case of known anemia, the patient must get a medical opinion to prevent the consequences.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

How to Treat and Prevent Anemia?

Diet plays a vital role in preventing and treating certain types of anemia. The diet must include vitamin C, B12, folate, and iron-rich foods, to prevent a few types of anemia. It consists of meat, citrus fruits, soy products, green leafy vegetables, beans, etc. Based on the type of anemia, the doctor may suggest dietary supplements, blood transfusion, medication, and bone marrow transplantation for treatment.

2.

What Are the Causes of Anemia?

Anemia may occur due to the following:
- Congenital abnormalities in the red blood cells or bone marrow that produces the blood cells.
- Sudden blood loss due to major surgeries, etc.
- Heavy destruction of the body’s red blood cells.

3.

Does Anemia Occur Due to Food?

Dietary supplementation is crucial to prevent specific anemias. However, certain foods may lead to or worsen anemia and including:
- Wheat products.
- Milk and other dairy products.
- Foods that are high in oxalic acid.
- Tea and coffee.

4.

What Increases the Risk of Anemia?

Below listed are factors that elevate the risk of anemia:
- Autoimmune disorders.
- Increased age.
- Infections.
- Alcohol intake.
- Malnourishment.
- Certain medications.

5.

Which Fruit Is the Best for Anemia?

Fruits that are enriched with vitamin C and beta-carotene are best for anemia. These vitamins and compounds are essential for improving the absorption of iron by the body. It includes tomatoes, oranges, apricots, peaches, strawberries, etc. In addition, include fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants to manage anemia.

6.

How Are Anemia Symptoms Prevented?

Based on the severity of anemia, its symptoms may vary; the most common include weakness, problems with concentration, dizziness, etc. Anemia due to iron deficiency or other vitamin deficiency and their symptoms may be prevented by consuming foods rich in iron, such as meat, fish, and other green leafy vegetables, along with foods rich in vitamin C and folate to enhance iron absorption.

7.

Did I Lose Weight Due to Anemia?

A severe form of anemia can weaken a person, and the appetite is also significantly reduced. In addition, the muscle and other tissues lose energy due to the blood's lack of proper oxygen supply. As a result, anemia lowers the body's metabolic rate, and there is a lack of interest in eating foods, which may gradually lead to weight loss.

8.

Do Vitamins Prevent Anemia?

Yes, a few types of anemia caused due to deficiency of vitamins like B12 and folate can be prevented by their proper dietary supplements. However, in other cases, even with adequate dietary intake of Vitamin B12 and folate, an individual may get anemia due to improper absorption. Therefore, it is vital to include vitamin C-rich foods and antioxidants in the diet, folate, and vitamin B12, to stay safe from anemia.

9.

Is Anemia Curable?

The treatment of anemia depends on its type. In case of vitamin deficiency, dietary supplements or medications may treat it. Other treatments, such as blood transfusions and bone marrow transplantation, are suggested in severe cases of anemia. Therefore, regular follow-up with the specialist is essential to treat and prevent complications of anemia.

10.

Does Anemia Last Long?

Regular doctor’s visits and iron supplements for two to three months may reduce the symptoms and permanently cure anemia for a few individuals. While in others, if anemia has occurred in diseases of bone marrow, blood, or other autoimmune disorders, the treatment may prolong, and anemia may stay longer. However, its complications may be reduced with several treatment options.

11.

Can Anemia Occur Due to Stress?

Anemia may also occur due to several factors like medications, malnourishment, etc. Studies have also proven that stress remains to be one of the factors that may lead to anemia. Prolonged and high stress may decrease the production of hydrochloric acid, which gradually depletes the structural integrity of iron. Therefore, the blood's iron levels fall, leading to anemia.

12.

Do Improper Sleep Cause Anemia?

Both sleep and anemia are interrelated. Poor sleep, that is, sleeping for a shorter duration, may spike the risk of anemia. In addition, moderate to severe anemia may disturb proper sleep due to symptoms like weakness, dizziness, etc. Poor sleep leads to anemia and directly affects the white blood cells in the body, leading to poor immunity. Therefore, adequate sleep and a proper diet are crucial to prevent a few types of anemia.

13.

Does It Take Long for Anemia to Go Away?

Anemia due to sudden blood loss, vitamin deficiency, malnourishment, and other minor factors may be treated with iron and other vitamin supplements. But a few forms of anemia caused by autoimmune disorders or other chronic conditions may last longer and require lifelong treatment. Therefore, the management of anemia solely depends on its types.
Dr. Jena Pratap Chandra
Dr. Jena Pratap Chandra

Family Physician

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