Anemia is a common condition manifested when your blood has a lower than normal number of red blood cells. Anemia could also occur if your red blood cells don’t contain enough hemoglobin, which is an iron-rich protein that gives blood its red color. This protein also helps red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of your body.
In anemia, your body doesn’t get adequate oxygen-rich blood making you feel tired or weak. You also may experience other symptoms, such as shortness of breath, dizziness, or headaches.
Severe or chronic anemia can adversely affect your heart, brain, and other organs in your body. Very severe anemia may prove fatal.
The tissues of the body need a regular supply of oxygen to stay healthy. The hemoglobin contained in red blood cells, allows them to carry oxygen throughout the body. Red blood cells live for only about 120 days. When they die, the iron they contain is returned to the bone marrow and used to create new red blood cells. Anemia can develop when heavy bleeding causes significant iron loss. It may also occur when something happens to slow down the production of red blood cells or to increase the rate at which they are destroyed. When Anemia occurs, the heart tries to pump harder, so as to increase the tissue perfusion. But, it may overwork itself, enlarge, or even fail.
Anemia thus can be mild, moderate, or severe enough to lead to life-threatening complications.
Types Of Anemia
Anemia can be classified as:
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Folic acid deficiency anemia
- Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia
- Vitamin C deficiency anemia
- Autoimmune hemolytic anemia
- Hemolytic anemia
- Sickle cell anemia
- Aplastic anemia
- Anemia due to chronic disease
Causes Of Anemia
- Anemia is caused by bleeding, decreased red blood cell production, or increased red blood cell destruction.
- Poor diet can contribute to vitamin deficiency and iron deficiency anemia, in which fewer red blood cells are produced.
- Hereditary disorders and certain diseases can cause increased blood cell destruction.
- However, excessive bleeding is the most common cause of anemia, and the speed with which blood loss occurs has a significant effect on the severity of symptoms.
Chronic Blood Loss May Be Caused by
Heavy menstrual flow, hemorrhoids, nose-bleeds, cancer, gastrointestinal tumors, stomach ulcers or long-term alcohol abuse.
Acute blood loss is usually the result of childbirth, injury, a ruptured blood vessel or surgery.
Symptoms Of Anemia
Weakness, fatigue, and a run-down feeling may be signs of mild anemia. Other signs include skin that is pasty or sallow, or lack of color in the creases of the palm, gums, nail beds, or lining of the eyelids.
Other symptoms of anemia are:
- Chest pain (Angina pectoris)
- Inability to concentrate and/or memory loss
- Inflammation of the mouth (stomatitis) or tongue (glossitis)
- Irregular heartbeat
- Loss of appetite
- Dry, brittle or ridged nails
- Rapid breathing
- Sores in the mouth, throat, or rectum
- Swelling of the hands and feet
- Ringing of the ears (Tinnitus)
- Unexplained bleeding or bruising
- A craving to chew ice, paint, or dirt (Pica)
Iron Deficiency Anemia
Iron Deficiency Anemia is the most common form of anemia. Its onset is gradual. The deficiency begins when the body loses more iron than it gains from food and other sources. Since depleted iron stores cannot meet the red blood cells needs, fewer red blood cells develop. In this early stage of Anemia, the red blood cells look normal, but they are reduced in number. Later, the body tries to compensate for the iron deficiency by producing more red blood cells, which are characteristically small in size.
Folic Acid Deficiency Anemia
Folic Acid Deficiency Anemia is the most common type of megaloblastic anemia. Here, red blood cells are bigger than normal. It is caused by a deficiency of folic acid, a vitamin that the body needs to produce normal cells. Folic acid anemia is especially common in infants and teenagers. Although this condition usually results from a dietary deficiency, it is sometimes due to the body’s inability to absorb enough folic acid from foods. The body needs vitamin C to absorb folic acid.
Smoking raises the risk of developing this condition by interfering with the absorption of vitamin C. Folic acid anemia can be a complication of pregnancy, when a woman’s body needs eight times more folic acid than it does otherwise.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency Anemia
Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia is another type of megaloblastic anemia. It develops when the body does not absorb enough of this nutrient, which is necessary for the creation of red blood cells. The body stores large amounts of B12, so this condition may not become apparent until as long as four years after B12 absorption slows down or stops. The resulting drop in red blood cell production can cause:
- Loss of muscle control.
- Loss of sensation in the legs, hands and feet.
- Soreness or burning of the tongue.
- Weight loss.
- Yellow-blue color-blindness.
The most common form of B12 deficiency is pernicious anemia. Since most people who eat meat or eggs get enough B12 in their diets, a deficiency of this vitamin usually means that the body is not absorbing it properly. This can occur among people who have had intestinal surgery or those who do not produce adequate amounts of intrinsic factor, a chemical secreted by the stomach lining that combines with B12 to help its absorption in the small intestine. Symptoms of pernicious anemia include problems with movement or balance, a slick tongue, tingling in the hands and feet, confusion, depression and memory loss. Pernicious anemia can also damage the spinal cord. A doctor should be notified whenever symptoms of this condition occur.
Vitamin C Deficiency Anemia
This is a rare disorder that causes the bone marrow to manufacture abnormally small red blood cells. Vitamin C deficiency anemia results from a severe and long-standing dietary deficiency.
Hemolytic anemia is a condition in which infection or antibodies destroy red blood cells more rapidly than bone marrow can replace them. Some are born with this condition and some may acquire it later on in life.
An inherited form of hemolytic anemia, thalassemia stems from the body’s inability to manufacture as much normal hemoglobin as it needs. There are two categories of thalassemia, depending on which of the amino acid chains is affected. (Hemoglobin is composed of four chains of amino acids.) In alpha-thalassemia, there is an imbalance in the production of the alpha chain of amino acids; in beta-thalassemia, there is an imbalance in the beta chain. Alpha-thalassemia most commonly affects people of African descent (25% have at least one gene); beta-thalassemia most commonly affects people of Mediterranean and Southeast-Asian ancestry. It is characterized by production of red blood cells that are unusually small and fragile, thalassemia only affects people who inherit the gene for it from each parent (autosomal recessive inheritance).
Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia
Warm antibody hemolytic Anemia is the most common form of this disorder. This condition occurs when the body produces auto antibodies that coat red blood cells. The coated cells are destroyed by the spleen, liver or bone marrow.
In cold antibody hemolytic Anemia, the body attacks red blood cells at or below normal body temperature. This condition is usually mild, short-lived and disappears without treatment.
The acute form of this condition frequently develops in people who have had pneumonia, mononucleosis, or other acute infections.
Sickle Cell Anemia
Sickle cell Anemia is a chronic, incurable condition that causes the body to produce defective hemoglobin, which forces red blood cells to assume an abnormal crescent shape. Unlike normal oval cells, fragile sickle cells cannot hold enough hemoglobin to nourish body tissue. The deformed shape makes it hard for sickle cells to pass through narrow blood vessels. When capillaries become obstructed, a life-threatening condition called sickle cell crisis is likely to occur.
Sickle cell Anemia is hereditary. It almost always affects people of African or Mediterranean descent. A child who inherits the sickle cell gene from each parent will have the disease, but a child who inherits the gene from only one parent will carry the sickle cell trait, but will not have the disease.
Aplastic Anemia is characterized by a decreased production of red and white blood cells and platelets (disc-shaped cells that allow the blood to clot). It is sometimes curable by bone marrow transplant, but is potentially fatal This disorder may be inherited or acquired as a result of recent severe illness, long-term exposure to industrial chemicals, or use of anticancer drugs and certain other medications.
Anemia Of Chronic Disease
Cancer, chronic infection or inflammation, kidney and liver disease often cause mild or moderate Anemia. Chronic liver failure generally produces the most severe symptoms.
Personal and family health history may suggest the presence of certain types of Anemia. Laboratory tests that measure the percentage of red blood cells or the amount of hemoglobin in the blood are used to confirm the diagnosis and determine which type of Anemia is responsible for a patient’s symptoms.
X-rays and examinations of bone marrow may be used to identify the source of bleeding.