Anemia Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments: What You Must Know

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Over three million Americans have anemia, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. It is the most prevalent disorder of the blood. The condition arises when the body lacks healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body, so when their numbers drop, it can cause a wide range of symptoms. This article will discuss the symptoms and causes of anemia and the various treatments available.

According to an article published by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), anemia affects nearly 20 percent of black and Hispanic-American women and nine to 12 percent of white non-Hispanic women in the U.S. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force calls for anemia screening among all pregnant women in any group.

Among high-risk infants aged six to 12 months, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends routine iron supplements. High-risk infants are black, Alaskan Native, Native American, or immigrants from developing countries living in poverty. Likewise, preterm infants, those with low birth weight, or those primarily subsisting on unfortified cow’s milk are considered high risk.

Types and Causes of Anemia

There are several types of anemia:

  • Aplastic anemia
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Thalassemia
  • Vitamin deficiency anemia

Aplastic anemia is when the bone marrow doesn’t produce enough red blood cells. It can be caused by a number of things, including autoimmune diseases, infections, and chronic diseases like cancer and kidney disease. These conditions can damage the bone marrow, where new blood cells are made.

Certain medications can also interfere with the bone marrow’s ability to produce blood cells. These include chemotherapy drugs, certain antibiotics, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia. It occurs when there isn’t enough iron in the body to make hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen. Iron deficiency anemia is often seen in women who are pregnant or menstruating, as they lose iron every month through bleeding. It can also be seen in people with gastrointestinal disorders that cause bleeding, such as ulcers.

Sickle cell anemia is a hereditary type of anemia that affects mostly African-Americans. People with sickle cell anemia have abnormal hemoglobin. This causes the red blood cells to be shaped like sickles or crescent moons. The abnormal cells can get stuck in small blood vessels, which can cause pain and organ damage.

Thalassemia is another hereditary type of anemia that affects mostly people of Mediterranean descent. People with thalassemia also have abnormal hemoglobin. This causes the red blood cells to be smaller than normal and to break down prematurely.

Vitamin deficiency anemia can be caused by a lack of vitamin B12 or folate in the diet. Vitamin B12 and folate are necessary for the production of healthy red blood cells. Vitamin B12 is found in meat, fish, and dairy products. Folate is found in leafy green vegetables, legumes, and fortified foods.

Pregnant women are at risk for vitamin deficiency anemia because their bodies need more of these vitamins to make hemoglobin for the growing baby. The fetus requires a lot of iron. During pregnancy, women should take steps to ensure they’re getting enough iron in their diet.

If left untreated, anemia can lead to heart failure, pregnancy complications, and cognitive impairments. Anemia can also make it difficult to fight off infections. However, it is often easily treated once it’s diagnosed.

Over three million Americans 

Symptoms of Anemia

The symptoms of anemia can vary depending on the type and severity of the condition. For some people, anemia may cause no symptoms at all. The following are the most common symptoms of anemia:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Pale skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Chest pain
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety

These symptoms can also be caused by a number of other conditions, so it’s important to see a doctor if you’re experiencing any of them. Anemia is often diagnosed with a blood test.

Treatments for Anemia

There are a number of different treatments available for anemia. The best treatment for you will depend on the underlying cause of your anemia

If you have iron-deficiency anemia, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) iron pills. They may also recommend changes to your diet to ensure you’re getting enough iron. You will be urged to eat more foods that are rich in iron. These include red meat, dark leafy greens, beans, and nuts. If anemia is caused by a vitamin deficiency, taking supplements can often treat the condition.

If bleeding is the cause of anemia, treating the underlying condition can often stop the bleeding and improve symptoms. For example, if an ulcer is causing blood loss, treatment may involve medications to heal the ulcer. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to stop bleeding ulcers.

If you have anemia caused by chronic diseases like cancer or kidney disease, treatment will focus on the underlying condition. This will often improve the symptoms of anemia. However, in certain cases, surgery may be necessary to treat conditions like cancer.

Bone marrow problems can be treated with medication or a bone marrow transplant, depending on the severity. In some cases, blood transfusions may be necessary to treat anemia.

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of anemia, see a doctor for a diagnosis. Only then can you be treated. Do not wait until complications arise.

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