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Anemia is the most common disorder of the blood, according the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Blood is the body's delivery system. It carries oxygen and other nutrients around the body, delivering them to the cells that need them. At the same time, the blood picks up and takes away the waste products. (Read about "The Heart & Cardiovascular System") One of the most important things the blood does is carry oxygen from the lungs to every cell, of every muscle and organ. Without that oxygen, cells could not operate properly. Hemoglobin is the part of the red blood cells that carry the oxygen. Anemia is when there is a problem with the hemoglobin or the red cells, which keeps the red blood cells from delivering enough oxygen.
Symptoms can include weakness, shortness of breath, fast heartbeat, pale skin and poor appetite. According to NHLBI, anemia can cause the heart to work harder, doing damage to the heart and causing even more problems for people who already have heart disease. (Read about "Coronary Heart Disease")
In general, anemia is caused by one or more of the following:
It's also important to note that the symptoms of anemia, as well as anemia itself, can indicate a number of other conditions. Therefore, if you have some or all of the above mentioned symptoms, see your doctor. Anemia is diagnosed with a blood test. (Read about "Laboratory Testing") A complete blood count (CBC) is a laboratory test performed on a sample of your blood, including a determination of your hematocrit or Hct (the percentage of the blood that consists of red blood cells) and hemoglobin or Hgb. (Read about "Complete Blood Count")
If anemia is confirmed, more tests may be needed to determine the underlying cause. Among the many diseases and conditions that can cause anemia are:
High levels of lead have also been associated with anemia. (Read about "Lead Paint Warning") If it determined that anemia is caused by a treatable underlying disease, it is essential that you get treatment for that disease, as well as for the anemia.
There are many different types of anemia, some of which you can read about below.
There used to be a commercial that talked about "iron poor blood." Basically, it was talking about one of the most prevalent forms of anemia, iron deficiency anemia. The body recycles the iron in our bodies and it stores iron in our bone marrow. When a blood cell dies, the iron is reused to make new blood cells. Iron can also be taken from the bone marrow to make new cells. However, we lose iron when we bleed, and if we don't replenish that iron we can have problems. Since the blood needs iron to bind to the oxygen and carry it where it needs to go, not enough iron means not enough oxygen is getting to the cells.
The National Women's Health Information Center (NWHIC) says iron deficiency anemia affects 20 percent of the women of childbearing age in the United States, but only 2 percent of the men. Most women need to ingest more iron than men because of their menstrual periods. They lose a certain amount of blood each and every month. (Read about "Menstrual Disorders") They need to replace that iron. It is recommended that men and postmenopausal women get 10 milligrams of iron a day. Women of childbearing age are supposed to get 15 milligrams and pregnant women 30 milligrams, according to NWHIC, but studies show 90 percent of women do not get enough iron every day.
A number of things can cause iron deficiency anemia according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and NWHIC. They include:
AAFP says that, for many people with iron deficiency anemia, there are often no symptoms, especially in the beginning. If the body isn't getting enough iron, it will turn to its stores in the bone marrow. It can take months or years to deplete iron stores, but when the iron is gone, the body has trouble producing healthy blood cells and then symptoms follow.
For iron deficiency anemia, treatment can involve either dietary modifications or iron supplements. (Read about "Iron Supplements") According to the National Institutes of Health, people should not take iron pills on their own unless tests and a doctor confirm that they need to, since too much iron can actually be unhealthy and cause long-term negative health effects. There is also a condition called hemochromatosis in which the body actually absorbs too much iron. (Read about "Hemochromatosis") The good news is that for many forms of anemia, once treatment takes place, the body can rebuild its iron stores and the symptoms will probably go away.
It's also possible to be deficient in iron, but not actually have anemia. NWHIC says that vegetarians and people who do not consume red meats are more likely to be iron deficient. That's because liver and red meats are the best source of iron for your body. AAFP also calls these foods high in iron:
Always check the labels of fortified foods (Read about "Food Labels") so you are aware of exactly what they contain.
Supplements should only be taken after talking with your doctor.
A deficiency of the B vitamin folic acid can also lead to anemia. (Read about "Vitamins & Minerals") A lack of folic acid or folate in the diet is considered the main culprit when this occurs. Often alcoholics will develop folic acid related anemia when they get malnourished. (Read about "Alcoholism") Pregnant women also have a need for folic acid. (Read about "Pregnancy and Nutrition") Ensuring an adequate amount of folic acid in the diet is important. The Institute of Medicine says folate can be found in orange juice, leafy green vegetables, beans, peanuts, broccoli, asparagus, peas, lentils and wheat germ. Folic acid is also added to certain grain products, such as breads and cereals. And it is available in vitamin supplements. According to the March of Dimes, the body more easily absorbs folic acid from vitamin supplements and fortified foods. A doctor should be consulted before using supplements.
Anemia can also stem from low levels of another B vitamin, B-12. (Read about "Vitamins & Minerals") When the body either doesn't get or can't absorb enough of the vitamin B-12, it can cause pernicious anemia. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) say most of the time pernicious anemia is caused by the lack of a substance called intrinsic factor (IF) in your body. IF is normally found in the stomach, and is needed for your body to absorb and use B-12. NIH says that intramuscular injections of B-12 are needed to treat pernicious anemia. This anemia is considered chronic. It should be carefully monitored by a physician and treatment is needed for a lifetime.
Aplastic anemias, which are rare, occur when the bone marrow is damaged and stops making enough blood cells. The damage can be caused by many things. Some of those causes from the Aplastic Anemia and MDS International Foundation are:
Severe cases of aplastic anemia are very serious and require immediate treatment. Bone marrow transplants can be necessary. (Read about "Transplants")
Fanconi is an inherited anemia. It leads to bone marrow failure, which also makes it what is called an aplastic anemia. (See above) Both parents must carry the gene for Fanconi to be passed on to a child, according to MOD. MOD also says that many Fanconi patients develop myelogenous leukemia. (Read about "Leukemia") Older patients also are at high risk of other cancers such as head and neck, gynecological and gastrointestinal. (Read about "Head and Neck Cancers" "Ovarian Cancer" "Cervical Cancer" "Uterine Cancer" "Stomach Cancer" "Colorectal Cancer")
Hemolytic anemia occurs when the red cells of the blood are destroyed prematurely. The American Academy of Pediatrics says this can result from disturbances on the surface of the red cells or other abnormalities either inside or outside the cells. Certain enzyme deficiencies also make red blood cells more prone to premature destruction.
Refractory anemias are associated with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS).
(Read about Myelodysplastic/Myeloproliferative Diseases
Sickle cell anemia is one of the genetic anemias. It is the result of a genetic problem passed by the parents. The red blood cells are malformed. People with sickle cell disease can suffer painful episodes.
(Read about "Sickle Cell Disease")
Thalassemia is another of the inherited anemias. The March of Dimes (MOD) says it strikes people from the eastern Mediterranean basin, southern Asians and Africans. (Read about "Minority Health")
There are two main forms of the disease, alpha and beta. Within each form are subcategories. The most severe alpha form can result in fetal or newborn death.
The beta form also has subcategories. According to MOD they are:
Transfusions are the main treatment for Thalassemia, according to MOD.
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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