What is Anemia?
What is Anemia?

Anemia is a condition in which you don't have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your tissues. Having anemia may make you feel exhausted. There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can range from mild to severe.

See your doctor if you suspect you have anemia, because anemia can be a sign of serious illnesses. Treatments for anemia range from taking supplements to undergoing medical procedures. You may be able to prevent some types of anemia by eating a healthy, varied diet.

Symptoms


Signs and symptoms vary depending on the cause of your anemia, but may include:

Fatigue
Pale skin
A fast or irregular heartbeat
Shortness of breath
Chest pain
Dizziness
Cognitive problems
Cold hands and feet
Headache

Initially, anemia can be so mild it goes unnoticed. But signs and symptoms increase as anemia worsens.

Causes

Anemia occurs when your blood doesn't have enough red blood cells. This could result if:

Your body doesn't make enough red blood cells
Bleeding causes you to lose red blood cells more quickly than they can be replaced
Your body destroys red blood cells

What red blood cells do

Your body makes three types of blood cells white blood cells to fight infection, platelets to help your blood clot and red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout your body.

Red blood cells contain hemoglobin a red, iron-rich protein that gives blood its red color. Hemoglobin enables red blood cells to carry oxygen from your lungs to all parts of your body, and to carry carbon dioxide from other parts of the body to your lungs so that it can be exhaled.

Most blood cells, including red blood cells, are produced regularly in your bone marrow a red, spongy material found within the cavities of many of your large bones. To produce hemoglobin and red blood cells, your body needs iron, vitamin B-12, folate and other nutrients from the foods you eat.


Causes of common types of anemia

Common types of anemia and their causes include:

Iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency anemia is caused by a shortage of the element iron in your body. Your bone marrow needs iron to make hemoglobin. Without adequate iron, your body can't produce enough hemoglobin for red blood cells.

Vitamin deficiency anemias. In addition to iron, your body needs folate and vitamin B-12 to produce sufficient numbers of healthy red blood cells. A diet lacking in these and other key nutrients can cause decreased red blood cell production. Additionally, some people may eat enough B-12, but their bodies aren't able to process the
vitamin. This can lead to vitamin deficiency anemia.

Anemia of chronic disease. Certain chronic diseases such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease and other chronic inflammatory diseases can interfere with the production of red blood cells, resulting in chronic anemia. Kidney failure also can cause of anemia.

Aplastic anemia. This very rare, life-threatening anemia is caused by a decrease in the bone marrow's ability to produce red blood cells. Causes of aplastic anemia include infections, drugs and autoimmune diseases.

Anemias associated with bone marrow disease. A variety of diseases, such as leukemia and myelodysplasia, can cause anemia by affecting blood production in your bone marrow. The effects of these types of cancer and cancer-like disorders vary from a mild alteration in blood production to a complete, life-threatening shutdown of the
blood-making process. Other cancers of the blood or bone marrow, such as multiple myeloma, myeloproliferative disorders and lymphoma, also can cause anemia.

Hemolytic anemias. This group of anemias develops when red blood cells are destroyed faster than bone marrow can replace them. Certain blood diseases can cause increased red blood cell destruction. Hemolytic anemias can be inherited or you can develop them later in life.

Sickle cell anemia. This inherited and sometimes serious anemia is caused by a defective form of hemoglobin that forces red blood cells to assume an abnormal crescent (sickle) shape. These irregular-shaped red blood cells die prematurely, resulting in a chronic shortage of red blood cells.

Other anemias. There are several other, rarer forms of anemia, such as thalassemia and anemias caused by defective hemoglobin.



Western Medicine Treatment

Anemia treatment depends on the cause:

Iron deficiency anemia. This form of anemia is treated with changes in your diet and iron supplements. If the underlying cause of iron deficiency is loss of blood other than from menstruation the source of the bleeding must be located and stopped. This may involve surgery.

Vitamin deficiency anemias. Folic acid deficiency anemia is treated with folic acid supplements. If your digestive system has trouble absorbing vitamin B-12 from the food you eat, you may receive vitamin B-12 injections.

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 synthetic erythropoietin, a hormone normally produced by your kidneys, may help stimulate red blood cell production and ease fatigue.

Aplastic anemia. Treatment for this anemia may include blood transfusions to boost levels of red blood cells. You may need a bone marrow transplant if your bone marrow is diseased and can't make healthy blood cells.

Anemias associated with bone marrow disease. Treatment of these various diseases can range from simple medication to chemotherapy to bone marrow transplantation.

Hemolytic anemias. Managing hemolytic anemias includes avoiding suspect medications, treating related infections and taking drugs that suppress your immune system, which may be attacking your red blood cells. Short courses of treatment with steroids or immune suppressant medications can help suppress your immune system's attack on your red blood cells. Depending on the severity of your anemia, a blood transfusion or plasmapheresis may be necessary. Plasmapheresis is a type of blood-filtering procedure.

Sickle cell anemia. Treatment for this anemia may include the administration of oxygen, pain-relieving drugs, and oral and intravenous fluids to reduce pain and prevent complications. Doctors may also recommend blood transfusions, folic acid supplements and antibiotics. A bone marrow transplant may be an effective treatment in some circumstances. A cancer drug called hydroxyurea (Droxia, Hydrea) also is used to treat sickle cell anemia.



Adopted from mayoclinic.com