Living With Anemia
Anemia is the deficiency of red blood cells in the body. Red blood cells carry oxygen to various tissues, and lack of oxygen can lead to extreme fatigue and muscle weakness. Additional symptoms include changes in mood and shortness of breath. With more than 400 different types, the causes of anemia are many. Anemia can also be a sign of more serious medical problems. Left untreated anemia can cause pregnancy complications, heart problems, and even death.
What is anemia?
Anemia is a medical condition where the body is deficient in red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body and remove carbon dioxide. Anemia often leaves the individual feeling weak and tired. There are over 400 different types of anemia divided into 3 main groups based on the cause. The three leading causes of anemia are blood loss, low red blood cell production, or destruction of red blood cells. Anemia can be mild or severe and range from temporary to permanent.
How is anemia diagnosed?
Blood tests are used to diagnose anemia. The blood test will look at the complete blood count (CBC) of the red blood cell and hemoglobin levels in the blood. Testing iron levels will let doctors know if an iron deficiency is a cause. A reticulocyte count will monitor how fast the body is making new red blood cells. Doctors may also look at the size and shape of red blood cells to rule out conditions such as Sickle Cell Anemia. Anemia is not always noticeable right away, and symptoms typically worsen over time. Symptoms of anemia include:
- Shortness of breath
- Delayed growth and development
- Difficulty concentrating
- Irregular heart rhythms
- Muscle weakness
- Cold numb extremities
- Dry mouth
- Bowel issues
- Koilonychias (upward curvature of the nails)
Risk factors for developing anemia
Genetics plays a significant role in developing anemia. Children can inherit anemia from one or both parents, and the condition will be present at birth. Women are more likely to develop anemia than men due to menstruation and pregnancy. Anemia due to menstruation is often temporary. Pregnancy increases the risk of developing anemia due to the increased blood supply demands. Anemia during pregnancy is common and can become permanent.
What are the treatment options?
Doctors will need to determine the cause of anemia before treatment. One treatment type could be dangerous for a different kind of anemia. Anemia caused by blood loss is treated with fluids, iron injections, and oxygen. If the blood loss is significant, a blood transfusion may be needed. Locating and stopping blood loss can also help. Anemia caused by iron shortage is treated with iron supplements and increasing the consumption of iron-rich foods.
How is anemia managed?
Managing anemia caused by the destruction of red blood cells can be hard. Identifying the underlying cause is crucial. If the reason is due to an external source such as an environmental agent, removing the source is recommended. If the cause is internal such as a faulty heart valve or tumor, surgery is necessary. Steroids can slow down the body’s destruction of red blood cells. Many individuals with hemolytic anemia will undergo multiple blood transfusions over the years.
Living with anemia
Abnormal daily fatigue is often the first sign of anemia. Blood tests are performed to help identify the cause and type of anemia. Life with anemia can be completely normal, and treatment often involves a healthy lifestyle and iron supplements. More severe cases of anemia will require blood transfusions. Anemia does not need to disrupt daily life completely. Living a fulfilling life with anemia is entirely possible.
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