Anaemia is a condition where the amount of haemoglobin in a person’s blood drops below normal. A decrease in haemoglobin is often associated with a decrease in the number of red blood cells (RBCs). Haemoglobin is contained within RBCs, and is necessary to transport and deliver oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Without a sufficient supply of oxygen, many tissues and organs throughout the body can be adversely affected. People with anaemia may experience fatigue, weakness and may lack energy.
Causes of anaemia
Anaemia is a common condition, with certain people having increased risk of developing anaemia: those with diets poor in iron and vitamins B12/Folate (necessary for haemoglobin and red cell production respectively), chronic diseases such as kidney disease, diabetes, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, a family history of inherited anaemia, chronic infections such as tuberculosis or HIV, and those who have had significant blood loss from injury or surgery. Anaemia can be mild, moderate, or severe depending on how much the RBC count and/or haemoglobin levels are decreased.
Iron deficiency can occur if you don’t consume enough iron-rich foods or if you experience heavy blood loss. Heavy blood loss may occur during heavy menstrual bleeding, blood loss from a severe injury, or an occult bleeding from the intestinal tract. In addition, a lack of iron supplementation may expose a pregnant woman to an iron deficiency. First, find out why your iron is deficient. Iron supplements are easily found over the counter.
Vitamin B12 and folate deficiency can cause a form of anaemia called megaloblastic anaemia where red cells are larger than normal. Vitamin B12 and folate are also easily found in supplemental forms.
Certain chronic diseases such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, kidney disease, arthritis, and inflammatory bowel diseases may cause a reduced production or an increased destruction of red blood cells.
The red blood cells are produced by the bone marrow. When the bone marrow is damaged and unable to produce red blood cells, it is called aplasia or aplastic anaemia.
Damage to the bone marrow may be caused by drugs such as some cancer treatment drugs, autoimmune disease, and toxic chemicals such as pesticides. Thus, when your bone marrow is damaged, your red blood cells would not be produced in sufficient amounts and levels will be affected.
Destruction of Red blood cells may be referred to as hemolysis. Diseases that could possibly cause the breakdown of red blood cells include those in which the red blood cells are abnormally shaped such as sickle cell anaemia. In these conditions, your red blood cells will be broken down faster than your bone marrow can replace them.
Signs and Symptoms
If you have anaemia, typical symptoms you will experience include fatigue, weakness, pale skin, shortness of breath, fast heart rate, cold hands and feet, and light-headedness.
Treatment of Anaemia
Anemia can be effectively treated with nutritional modification, lifestyle changes, and medical interventions.
• Nutritional Recommendations
To prevent or treat anaemia, it is essential to incorporate a variety of iron-rich and Vitamin B-rich foods into your diet. This will help boost your red blood cell production. Iron-rich foods include beef, beans, lentils, dark leafy greens, and dried fruit. Foods rich in folate include green peas, kidney beans, peanuts, dark leafy greens, fruit juices, and enriched grain products including cereal, pasta, rice, and bread.
It is also essential to consume Vitamin B-12 rich foods such as meat, dairy products, and soy products. Vitamin C rich foods are also vital to treat anaemia. Although Vitamin C does not directly boost your red blood cell, it boosts the absorption of iron in your gut. Foods rich in Vitamin C include citrus fruits, peppers, broccoli, strawberries, melons, and tomatoes.
Consult your dietician if you are unsure of how to incorporate these foods into your diet plan or if you have questions regarding the quantities.
• Lifestyle Changes
There are certain types of anaemia that are caused by environmental exposures such as pesticides, radiation, and certain medicines including some antibiotics. Avoiding such exposures is pertinent to treat such anaemia. If your job exposes you to these environmental toxins, you might need to use personal protective equipment or consider a change in job.
In cases of sickle cell anaemia, you will need to drink a lot of water to prevent dehydration, which is usually a risk factor for a sickle cell anaemia crisis. Additionally, you will need to avoid extreme temperatures. This is because it could act as a trigger for sickle cell anaemia. Stress may also worsen sickle cell conditions, so it is recommended that you manage your stress effectively.
Tobacco and alcohol consumption should also be monitored also help prevent anaemia in the long run. These factors are associated with the development of chronic diseases, which can cause anaemia. You may consider reaching out to support groups for quitting alcohol and smoking.
Homeopathic approaches treat anaemia based on a person’s emotional, mental, and physical makeup. It involves the preparation of natural mixtures such as Ferrum Phosphoricum to help tackle causes of anaemia.
• Medical Recommendations
Any presence of anaemia requires medical consult for a comprehensive workup. You may have more than one cause of anaemia concurrently. Lifestyle changes mentioned above are important, but you must first be aware of what is causing the anaemia through the workup. Through a careful medical history and physical examination, your doctor will guide you to which blood tests to consider to get a full diagnosis.
Medical treatment for anaemia will focus on treating the cause, if possible eliminate the cause (such as excessive bleeding), and replacing your hemoglobin and red cell levels through supplements of iron, B12, Folate, transfusion of blood products, or gene therapy.
Anaemia can be a serious condition where the body lacks healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin to supply oxygen to your body’s tissues. Since oxygen is essential for the survival of our cells and bodily tissues, any untreated anaemia can be life-threatening.
Anaemia may be caused by both modifiable and non-modifiable factors. While the modifiable factors such as poor dietary intake, exposure to toxins can be addressed to treat and prevent it, the non-modifiable factors such as inherited hemolytic anaemia can be managed by avoiding exacerbating factors. So keep a lookout for signs and symptoms of anaemia and visit your doctor if you suspect anything amiss!
If you’re interested in learning more about red blood cells and how they affect your body, read on more about it in our biomarker post here!