What is anemia?

Published: February 27, 2021

Anemia is a disorder whereby the count of red blood cells is lower than usual. Due to this, the amount of hemoglobin produced by the body is also lower. This chemical is rich in protein and is responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, according to Medline Plus.

What causes anemia?

Any process disrupting the life span of red blood cells, which is usually around 120 days, may cause anemia, Medicinenet reports.

A common cause for this is a decreased amount of iron in the blood, which the body needs in order to produce hemoglobin. The level of iron is lowered by loss of blood.

This can occur as a result of:

  • Heavy menstrual bleeding or childbirth
  • Conditions such as ulcers, gastritis, hemorrhoids and cancer
  • Excessive use of anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin

Reduction or production of faulty red blood cells can also cause anemia. Webmd points out that certain conditions are associated with this:

  • Sickle cell anemia – an inherited condition affecting African-Americans whereby red blood cells become crescent shaped due to a genetic fault
  • Iron deficiency anemia – as mentioned above, most commonly occurs as a result of blood loss
  • Vitamin deficiency – a lack of vitamin B-12 and folate in the system
  • Bone marrow and stem cell problems – may prevent the body from producing a sufficient amount of red blood cells
  • Other conditions which cause a decreased amount of hormones necessary for the production of red blood cells, such as kidney disease, cancer and lupus

The cells can also sometimes rupture because they are too fragile to withstand the stress of circulation, causing hemolytic anemia.

Red blood cells travelling in an artery

How is it diagnosed?

Anemia is usually diagnosed through complete blood cell (CBC) count, which can be carried out by a physician during a routine check-up or ordered on symptoms suggesting blood abnormalities.

As it is often a clue to another underlying condition, it is important to get tested properly.

What are the symptoms?

Not everyone suffering from anemia displays symptoms, but those who do often report:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness and dizziness
  • Heart palpitations (feeling of racing heart)
  • Loss of hair
  • Passing out
  • Pale or cold skin

Emedicinehealth adds that a change in stool colour to black and tarry, maroon-coloured or bloody could also be indicative of anemia, as can jaundice, low blood pressure and enlargement of the spleen.

How is it treated?

Anemia generally needs to be medicated. This varies widely depending on the severity and cause of the condition.

A less severe form may include iron supplements and medication prescribed by a health professional, whereas in cases of rapid blood loss a transfusion of red blood cells may be required. Those with vitamin deficiency are encouraged to eat a healthier, more balanced diet and take supplements to replace folate and vitamin B-12 in the system.

Celebrities who are known to have suffered from anemia include tennis star Venus Williams.

Image: Wikimedia Commons, Hank Grebe for Mediaspin

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Published February 27, 2021 by in Health Conditions
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3 Responses to “What is anemia?”

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    21. May, 2010

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