Anemia is a condition in which a person lacks enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. In a routine blood test, anemia is reported as a low hemoglobin or hematocrit. Hemoglobin is the main protein in the red blood cells. It carries oxygen throughout the body.
It often develops as a result of other health issues that interfere with the body’s production of healthy red blood cells (RBCs) or increase the rates of breakdown or loss of these cells.
The most common symptom of anemia is fatigue. Other common symptoms include:
- Pale skin
- A fast or irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Pain including in the bones, chest belly, and joints
- Cold hands and feet
- Dizziness, lightheadedness
People with mild anemia may experience few or no symptoms.
Some forms of anemia cause specific telltale symptoms, including:
- Aplastic anemia – this can cause a fever, frequent infections, and skin rashes.
- Folic acid deficiency anemia – this can cause irritability, diarrea, and a smooth tongue.
- Hemolytic anemia – this can cause jaundice, dark urine, a fever, and abdominal pain.
- Sickle cell anemia – this can cause painful swelling in the feet and hands, as well as fatigue and jaundice
Types of Anemia
There are more than 400 types of anemia, and they’re divided into three groups:
- Anemia caused by blood loss
- Anemia caused by decreased or faulty red blood cell production
- Anemia caused by destruction of red blood cells
Causes of Anemia
Different types of anemia have different causes. They include:
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Vitamin deficiency anemia
- Anemia of inflammation
- Aplastic anemia
- Anemias associated with bone marrow disease
- Hemolytic anemias
- Sickle cell anemia
To diagnose anemia, the doctor is likely to ask about the person’s medical and family history, perform a physical exam, and run the following tests:
- Complete Blood Count (CBC) – a CBC is used to count the number of blood cells in a sample of the person’s blood.
- A test to determine the size and shape of the red blood cells – some of the red blood cells might be examined for unusual size, shape and color.
Anemia treatment depends on the cause:
- Iron Deficiency Anemia – treatment for this form of anemia usually involves taking iron supplements and changing the patients diet.
- Vitamin Deficiency Anemias – treatment for folic acid and vitamin C deficiency involves dietary supplements and increasing these nutrients in the diet.
- Anemia of Chronic Disease – there’s no specific treatment for this type of anemia. Doctors focus on treating the underlying disease. If symptoms become severe, a blood transfusion or injections of a synthetic hormone normally produced by the kidneys (erythropoietin) might help stimulate blood cell production and ease fatigue.
- Aplastic Anemia – treatment for this anemia can include blood transfusions to boost level of red blood cells. Patient might need a bone marrow transplant if the bone marrow can’t make healthy blood cells.
- Anemias Associated with Bone Marrow Disease – treatment of these various diseases can include medication, therapy, chemotherapy or bone marrow transplantation.
- Hemolytic Anemias – managing hemolytic anemias includes avoiding suspect medications, treating infections and taking drugs that suppress the immune system, which could be attacking the red blood cells.
- Sickle Anemia – treatment might include oxygen, pain relievers, and oral and intravenous fluids to reduce pain and prevent complications.
- Thalassemia – most forms of thalassemia are mild and require no treatment. Most severe forms of thalassemia generally require blood transfusions, folic acid supplements, medication, removal of the spleen, or a blood and bone marrow stem cell transplant.
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