What is Anemia?
People who suffer from anemia do not have enough red blood cells for the body to function properly. Red blood cells are responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body. When there is iron deficiency, the body does not produce enough red blood cells for this vital function.
Some people do not consume enough iron rich foods, specifically meats like beef that are good sources of iron. Failure to consume adequate amounts of foods with iron can be the result of not being able to afford healthy foods or not being knowledgeable about what makes up a healthy diet. When there is not enough iron in the blood, an individual is known as have iron deficiency anemia. Anemia is known by other names such as iron poor blood, or tired blood.
Symptoms of Anemia
Generally, the symptoms of anemia include tiredness or a feeling of having no energy. People with anemia may feel fatigued with shortness of breath. Their hands and feet may feel cold much of the time. Anemia may cause an individual to experience headaches, and dizziness. Pale skin and chest pain are also symptoms of anemia. The heart rhythm may also be affected since the red blood cell count is low. As a result, the heart has to work harder to pump oxygen carrying blood to all parts of the body. Risk factors for anemia
Males and females of all age groups and races are susceptible to anemia. Children who are under two are also at risk because their diets don’t usually contain enough iron foods. Those of other age groups who fail to eat iron-rich food may find that they suffer from anemia. The group most at risk for anemia is women who are of childbearing age. Menstruation is the primary reason for this group being at risk. For some women menstrual periods result in the loss of much blood which affects the level of red blood cells in the body.
People with chronic illnesses such as kidney problems, cancer, diabetes and related conditions are at a higher risk for developing anemia.
People with anemia often have unusual cravings otherwise known as pica. Pica is defined as eating non food items like paper, dirt, ice grass, paper and other items. It is not unusual to observe adults with pica chewing on unusual items. Young children with pica exhibit similar behaviors.
How Anemia is Diagnosed
The may be no symptoms in some people who have anemia. A physician may ask questions about a family history of anemia to determine if an individual might be at risk. A complete physical is usually needed to diagnose anemia. This includes a rectal exam or vaginal exam if deemed necessary to determine if there is any loss of blood.
One test that is usually given to diagnose anemia is a complete blood count. The CBC measures the number of white blood cells to determine if there are problems with the blood or if the body is fighting off infection or immune issues. The complete blood count test checks hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen in the bloodstream and the hematocrit, which is a measure of how much space blood cells occupy in the body. If these numbers are low, that may signal that an individual has anemia.
Hemoglobin electrophoresis is an additional test that might be ordered. This test measures the different types of hemoglobin in the blood. This helps the physician determine what type of anemia a person may have. Another test that might be recommended is a reticulocyte test that measures whether bone marrow is making red blood cells as quickly as needed. Iron tests including the serum ferritan and serum iron test can be used to determine the amount of iron in the blood. All of these tests are helpful when a physician is evaluating a patient for anemia.
Causes of Anemia
There is not one specific cause of anemia. Some causes are associated with heredity, while others are related to diseases, hormonal changes and other conditions that result in either not enough red blood cells being made or red blood cells being depleted.
Iron may be lost through normal physiological processes such as during the menstrual period in women. Blood loss is the reason for iron depletion during menstruation. The most common cause of iron-deficiency anemia is blood loss. Blood loss can be the result of bleeding in the urinary tract, cancer, surgery, and trauma
Diets with little to no iron, folic acid (folate), or vitamin B12 can result in the body not being able to produce enough red blood cells. Other nutrients that help the body make red blood cells are copper, riboflavin and vitamin C.
Cancer & Anemia
When there is not enough of the hormone erythropoietin present the body is not able make adequate blood cells. Erythropoietin is what stimulates the bone marrow to produce blood cells; therefore not enough of hormone can lead to anemia.
Cancer can damage red blood cells and cancer treatment can damage bone marrow and prevent it from producing enough red blood cells to carry oxygen.
It is not unusual for pregnant women to have anemia due to changes that come with pregnancy. Increased plasma in the pregnant woman’s body can dilute red blood cells.
Types of Anemia caused by Heredity
There are other types of anemia that are not specifically associated with diet and cannot be correctly by taking supplements or eating healthy foods. Those anemias are the result of chronic conditions, medications and substances that affect the blood cells or heredity.
Some infants are born without the ability to make enough red blood cells. This condition is called aplastic anemia. Infants and children who have aplastic anemia often need blood transfusions to increase the number of red blood cells in their blood.
In other situations, anemia can be caused by conditions that destroy too many red blood cells. Those with enlarged spleens often have a problem with losing too many blood cells. The job of the spleen is to rid the body of worn out red blood cells. When the spleen is enlarged, it removes more red blood cells than necessary. As a result the individual experiences the symptoms of anemia.
Thalassemia is also known as Mediterranean anemia. With this type of anemia, there are fewer red blood cells and less hemoglobin the body than normal. Thalassemia can cause a person to feel fatigued. Other symptoms of Thalassemia include weakness, pale appearance, slow growth, shortness of breath, jaundice, irritability, dark urine, and protruding abdomen. The condition may not need treatment, but people with serious cases often get regular blood transfusions.
The signs and symptoms you experience depend on your type and severity of thalassemia. Some babies show signs and symptoms of thalassemia at birth, while others may develop signs or symptoms later, during the first two years of life. Some people who have only one affected hemoglobin gene don’t experience any thalassemia symptoms. A healthy diet with iron rich foods can help persons with thalassemias, but if parents suspect that their children have the condition, they should take to child to a doctor for evaluation.
Sickle Cell Anemia
Another type of anemia is sickle cell anemia. With this type of anemia, the body produces red blood cells that are shaped like a “C” of a sickle. The hemoglobin in these cells causes the sickle shape. It is difficult for these sickle shaped cells to move through the blood vessels. Sickle cell anemia is an inherited, lifelong disease. The sickle shape of the blood cells can cause them to clump together which results in pain and inflammation for those who suffer from sickle cell.
Persons with hemolytic anemia lack enough red blood cells because the body destroys them. Certain hereditary conditions cause hemolytic anemia. Conditions such as infections, immune disorders can cause this type of anemia. Additionally, blood transfusions and certain types of medications can cause hemolytic anemia.
There can also be anemia due to B-12 deficiency. The body need Vitamin B-12 to make red blood cells. To boost the amount of B-12 in the body, healthy foods should be consumed. Meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy products are all sources of vitamin B-12. Vegetarians must be especially careful to get enough B-12 since those food that are good sources of B-12 would not be eaten. Vitamin B-12 anemia may also be seen in infants with poor diets and in pregnant women.
When anemia is severe it can cause problems with the heart including rapid heart beat, enlargement of the heart and heart failure. Persons with severe anemia may need inpatient care to address the issue. Those with severe anemia may experience restless leg syndrome. The legs and arms can also swell when anemia is severe.
How to Prevent Iron Deficiency Anemia
Healthy eating can help prevent iron deficiency anemia. Getting adequate amounts of iron rich foods each day can help improve hemoglobin. Consuming enough iron can help an individual feel more energetic, improve resistance to infections and increase children’s ability to grow and learn. Try to consume at least three or more good sources of iron every day.
Foods that contain iron include liver, lean meat, fish, poultry, dried beans and peas; green leafy vegetables, raisins, tofu and whole wheat bread. Eating foods that are fortified with iron is another way to add iron to the diet. These foods include iron fortified breakfast cereals and enriched breads and grain foods.
Meats contain heme iron which is easier for the body to absorb and use. When eating iron fortified foods, combine them with a source of vitamin C to help the body use the iron from these foods more effectively.
When eating iron rich food does not provide enough iron, a doctor may recommend supplements. Iron supplements should be taken only at the advice of a healthcare provider to prevent taking too much. Too much iron can lead to iron poisoning with symptoms of fatigue, nausea, dizziness, weight loss, headache and shortness of breath.
When taking iron supplements choose those that provide no more than 100 percent of the daily value of iron. If you need more, your health care provider will prescribe a supplement. Women of childbearing age are usually prescribed prenatal vitamins with iron.
How Much Iron Do You Need?
Women usually suffer from iron deficiency if they are in their childbearing years due to iron lost during the menstrual cycle. Also during pregnancy iron is lost due to the need for iron in fetal development. Girls in their teens need about 15 milligrams per day and pregnant women need around 27 milligrams per day. Children also need iron for growth and development. Typically, children ages one to three need 7 milligrams a day.