What is anemia?
Anemia is a blood condition caused due to decrease in healthy red blood cells. Whenever the red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood decreases below the required level in the body, a person is said to be suffering from anemia.
Anemia is broadly categorized into three groups. They are loss of blood, reduction and faulty production of red blood cells and destruction of red blood cells.
Loss of blood may occur rapidly or slowly.
Rapid blood loss occur due to trauma, Surgery, childbirth or rupture of the blood vessels. Even a mild change in the hemoglobin level may produce symptoms in rapid blood loss.
Slow blood loss known as chronic blood loss can occur due to stomach ulcer, tumor or cancer. Menstruation is also a cause of chronic blood loss. In slow or chronic anemia, the body of a person may adjust to lower level of oxygen produced and may experience any symptom only when the anemia is severe.
Cause of anemia
Decrease or faulty production of red blood cells is caused mainly due to lack of vitamins and minerals at the required level and consumption of diet deficient in iron over a period of time. Iron deficiency may also occur due to bone marrow issues, stem cell disorders to name a few. Inadequate intake of vitamin B12 and folate are the vital reasons for general decrease in red blood cells in the absence of other reasons. Pregnancy and other intestinal disorders can also cause reduced red blood cells count. Diabetes, chronic infection and old age are the other reasons for decrease in RBC and consequently anemia. Abnormal white blood cells produced during conditions like leukemia may also impair production of red blood cells.
Destruction of red blood cells occur when the immune system in the body wrongly identifies the existing red blood cells as foreign material and destroys them which is called autoimmune hemolytic anemia. Excessive hemolysis which is red blood cells break down may be due to other medical conditions also.
Symptoms of anemia
Many symptoms can be noticed in a person affected by anemia. Such symptoms may vary depending upon the cause of anemia.
The most common symptom is fatigue experienced by the person. Other symptoms are irregular or fast heartbeat, shortness of breath, chest pain, headache, light headedness and pale skin. Advanced stage of kidney disease, hypothyroidism and rheumatoid arthritis are also the causes for anemia to set in. People above 65 years of age are more prone to anemia compared to others.
In mild cases of anemia no symptom may be noticed at all.
Some of the symptoms particular to the type of anemia are:
- Aplastic anemia – fever, infections occurring frequently and skin rashes. This is a rare form of anemia due to inadequate production of red blood cells which is caused due to chronic infections, consumption of certain medicines for a long duration, exposure to toxic chemicals and certain autoimmune diseases. Aplastic anemia can be life threatening if not attended in time.
- When folic acid deficiency is the reason for anemia, irritability, smoothness of the tongue or diarrhea are the symptoms.
- Hemolytic anemia – jaundice, urine color becoming dark, abdominal pain and fever. Hemolytic anemia destroys red blood cells faster than their replacement by bone marrow. This type of anemia may be either inherited or developed at a later stage of life.
- Sickle cell anemia – swelling of the feet and hands associated with pain, fatigue and jaundice. Sickle cell anemia is an inherited condition in which the defective form of hemoglobin forces the red blood cell to take sickle shape which dies prematurely (before the 120 days life span) causing reduction in the total red blood cell count.
Treatment of Anemia
Symptoms of anemia are best tackled by adopting appropriate iron rich dietary program. It is the iron that carries oxygen to the lungs in order to purify the blood and enhances the red blood cells. While other particular symptoms surfacing due to particular causes can be addressed specifically, overall anemic condition can be removed by dietary changes and supplements taken to enhance the iron level. Some of the food that are rich in iron are
- Dark green vegetables like kale
- Brown rice, pulses and beans
- Nuts and seeds
- Dried fruits, apricots and raisins
- Fish, white and red meat
It must be well under stood that blood cells are produced by the bone marrow in the body only from the food consumed in which vitamin B 12, folate, iron and other vitamins and minerals are available and absorbed. This is to drive home the point that supplements can only be an added advantage in combating anemic condition whereas diet alone is solely responsible in curing anemia.
Anemia, if left unattended can cause severe fatigue, pregnancy complications, heart problems and rarely even death.
Natural remedies are available that can help to cure the condition of anemia. Medicines are prescribed for increasing the hemoglobin level and in order to increase the production of red blood cells. In certain cases blood transfusion is also attempted to quickly increase the hemoglobin level as a first hand measure. Since bone marrow is responsible in increasing red blood cells, any disorder in bone marrow also has to be addressed including transfusion of bone marrow for a permanent remedy.