Anemia and Its Impact in Your Body
Like other living things on planet Earth, people need oxygen. You might think that a strong heart and healthy lungs are all you need to get oxygen to all corners of your body, but there are other crucial components in this mission – red blood cells and hemoglobin.
When red blood cells are plentiful and functioning properly, they carry hemoglobin through blood vessels. Hemoglobin, an iron-rich protein, attaches to oxygen, transports it, and deposits it in essential areas throughout the body. However, when there are some troubles with both the red blood cells and hemoglobin, it could lead to problems – such as anemia.
Keep on reading to discover what anemia is, the causes, symptoms, types, and treatment.
What Is Anemia?
Anemia is the result of problems with red blood cells and hemoglobin. If the relationship between hemoglobin, red blood cells, and oxygen is not functioning in harmony, anemia occurs.
Medical professionals diagnose anemia when hemoglobin values obtained from a blood test are:
- Less than 13.5 gm/dl in a man
- Less than 12gm/dl for woman
Anemia is the most common disorder affecting the blood. Currently, there are about 3 million people in the U.S. with the disease.
Symptoms of Anemia
With anemia, your body lacks the oxygen it desperately needs. Due to the low levels of oxygen, someone with anemia will experience:
- Weakness and low energy
- Shortness of breath during everyday activities
- A heart rate that it too fast or irregular
- Pounding in the ears
- A headache
- Cold hands and feet
- Skin that is pale or yellowish
- Chest pains
These symptoms lead some to believe they are having a heart attack or other cardiovascular emergencies. Luckily, a simple blood test can quickly and easily identify anemia and distinguish it from other, more dangerous conditions.
Anemia Risk Factors
Anemia does not limit itself to certain people or a small part of the population. The problem is widespread and affects:
- People with poor diets
- Women who are pregnant or menstruating
- People with chronic physical health conditions like:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Various autoimmune diseases
- Liver diseases
- Thyroid disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
If you have a new onset of hunger, or are always hungry and don’t know why, let your health care provider know. They may need to run some blood tests.
It is important to remember that anemia can present at any point in a person’s life, but the risk increases as the person grows older.
Types of Anemia
You might be surprised to learn that anemia is not a single, streamlined disease. Instead, several subtypes comprise the condition, each with its own unique causes and impact.
The types of anemia include:
This type, which occurs when your body lacks the needed amount of iron in the system, is the most common form of anemia. Poor iron levels are related to blood loss, pregnancy, and weight loss surgeries.
For example, gastric bypasses disrupt the normal nutrient absorption, so a person may not adequately process iron following the surgery.
Vitamins like B12 and folic acid are needed in the body to aid red blood cells and hemoglobin. If someone does not consume enough of these vitamins through food, drinks, and supplements, the poor nutrition will keep oxygen from moving as needed through the circulatory system.
The stem cells in bone marrow are responsible for manufacturing red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets and sending them into the bloodstream. If the stem cells or bone marrow become damaged through viral infections, radiation, or toxic chemicals, the body will produce only a small amount of red blood cells.
With this type of anemia, the body produces enough red blood cells, but they are destroyed while in the blood vessels or in the spleen. Infections, autoimmune problems, developmental abnormalities, cardiovascular issues like aneurysms and dysfunctional heart valves all play a role in causing hemolytic anemia.
A widely-known type of anemia, sickle cell, is a form of hemolytic anemia. This specific type involves abnormal red blood cells that are rigid rather than flexible. This difference leads to an inability of the red blood cells to smoothly flow through the blood vessels.
Anemia Treatment Options
The best treatments for anemia vary for the person and their type. Those with iron-deficiency anemia will need to identify and address the potential for blood loss, especially in the stomach or bowels. Once doctors locate the source of the blood loss, anemia will no longer be a problem.
Vitamin-deficiency anemias, resulting from low levels of vital nutrients, are usually treated with an improved diet or dietary supplements to increase the needed vitamins in the body.
People with aplastic anemia may require a bone marrow biopsy to identify the disease’s cause accurately. Once the source is discovered, medications or blood transfusions can limit symptoms moving forward.
Since hemolytic anemia has a number of causes, a vascular expert is often needed to diagnose the specific issue and prescribe helpful treatment. In some cases, antibiotics and medications to regulate the immune system are helpful.
There are many cases of anemia you cannot prevent, but some you can. By making simple lifestyle changes and modifications to your diet, you boost your health and reduce your risk for anemia.