Commonly asked questions about anemia:
- What is anemia?
- What are the types/causes of anemia?
- What risk factors are associated with anemia?
- What are the symptoms/signs associated with anemia?
- What medications are used to treat anemia?
What is Anemia?
Anemia is when your body is unable to produce enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to your bodies other tissue. There are many different forms, and each has its own cause. It can be long-term or temporary as well as having mild to severe symptoms. According to the Office on Women’s Health (OWH), about 3 million Americans suffer from it.
What Are The Types/Causes of Anemia?
According to the Mayo Clinic there are several different kinds of anemia, and the type you develop depends on the circumstances in which it was developed. The following is a list of the most common forms and their causes:
- Iron Deficiency: This is the most common form in the world. Iron deficiency anemia, as the the name would suggest, is caused by a shortage of iron in the body. The body requires iron to create hemoglobin. Without adequate iron the body is unable to create enough hemoglobin to create red blood cells. This occurs in many pregnant women and it can also be caused by blood loss and the continued use of several over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin.
- Vitamin Deficiency: Your body requires the vitamin B-12 in order to produce healthy red blood cells. If your diet does not consist of this vitamin and other key nutrients, it can lead to a decrease in red blood cell production. However, there are also cases in which people’s bodies produce enough B-12 but their bodies are unable to process the vitamin correctly. This can lead to vitamin deficiency anemia, also known as pernicious anemia.
- Chronic Diseases: Diseases such as Cancer, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, Crohn’s disease and other chronic inflammatory diseases can interfere with the production of red blood cells.
- Associated with Bone Marrow Disease: There are a variety of diseases that can cause anemia by affecting blood production in your bone marrow, such as leukemia and myelofibrosis. The effects of these disorders can vary from mild to life-threatening.
- Hemolytic Disease: This type of anemia occurs when your red blood cells are destroyed faster than your bone marrow is able to replace them. Certain diseases cause the destruction of red blood cells. You are able to inherit this form of anemia, or you can develop it later in life.
- Sickle Cell: This condition is inherited and can be very serious. It is classified as an inherited hemolytic anemia. It is caused by a defective form of hemoglobin that forces red blood cells to assume an abnormal crescent (sickle) shape. The irregular blood cells die prematurely, which in turn creates a chronic shortage of red blood cells.
What Are Risk Factors Associated With Anemia?
Anemia is a common condition that occurs in people of all ages, gender, racial and ethnic groups. However there are several factors that can increase your risk of developing it. These factors include:
- A diet lacking in certain vitamins such as iron, vitamin B-12 and folate.
- Women who are at child-bearing age, due to blood loss through menstruation.
- Intestinal disorders such as Crohn’s disease and celiac disease affect the absorption of nutrients in your small intestine that can put you at risk of developing anemia.
- Pregnancy, if you are not taking a multivitamin containing folic acid.
- Chronic conditions such as cancer or kidney failure that cause a shortage of red blood cells may put you at a higher risk.
- If your family has a history of inherited anemia such as sickle cell anemia you may also be at an increased risk of developing the condition.
- If you are over the age of 65 you have an increased chance of developing it.
Other factors that can cause an increased risk include a history of certain infections, blood diseases and autoimmune disorders. Others are alcoholism, exposure to toxic chemicals, and the use of some medications that can affect red blood cell production rates, which can lead to anemia.
What Symptoms/Signs Are Associated With Anemia?
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the most common sign is tiredness or fatigue. You may begin to find it difficult to preform daily tasks. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, dizziness, headache, coldness in the hands and feet, pale skin and chest pain. Mild to moderate anemia may not produce any signs or side effects whatsoever.
What Medications Are Used To Treat Anemia?
The treatment for anemia depends on the type, causes and severity of the condition. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute states that many of the treatments include dietary changes or supplements, medicines, procedures or surgery to help treat blood loss. One of the main causes of anemia is low levels of vitamins or iron in your body. In order to raise your iron/vitamin level your doctor may ask you to take vitamin or iron supplements.
Common supplements include:
- Vitamin B12
- Folic Acid
- Vitamin C
- Antibiotics used to treat infections
- Hormones to help treat heavy menstrual bleeding in adult women
- A man-made version of the drug erythropoietin to help stimulate your body into producing more red blood cells.
- Medicines (such as Cellcept and Imuran) to help prevent the body’s immune system from destroying its own red blood cells.
- Chelation therapy for lead poisoning. This is mostly used in children because if a child has iron-deficiency anemia they are at a higher risk of developing lead poisoning.
- Blood Transfusion: This is a safe and common procedure where matching donated blood is given to you via an IV.
- Bone and Marrow Stem Cell Transplant: This is used to replace your faulty stem cells with healthy ones from a donor. You receive stem cells through a tube that is placed in a vein in your chest. Once the new stem cells are introduced they travel to your bone marrow, making new blood cells.
If you have serious or life threatening bleeding, you may need to undergo surgery. Some of the most common reasons to have surgery is continuous bleeding from a stomach ulcer or colon cancer.
Another common procedure is having a splenectomy. Your spleen is responsible for removing worn-out red blood cells. However, if your body is destroying red blood cells at a high rate it may be due to a enlarged or diseased spleen.