Sometimes an initial illness can cause subsequent complications. Other situations, like pregnancy, can also bring alternate health issues. Anemia is a health complication that can occur on its own or in conglomeration with a different illness. The effects of anemia can easily be overlooked or blamed on other factors. Many are subtle. Over time, however, they can worsen and become dangerous. Familiarity with the symptoms can help to secure an early diagnosis.
Anemia has to do with a lowering of the red blood cells in your body. A decrease in hemoglobin or complications with oxygen circulation in the blood are also possibilities. Anemia due to iron deficiency is common in areas where proper nourishment is not available. Evidence on skeletal material from ancient civilizations can prove the presence of anemia in the population. Nutritional deficiencies can leave pocked marks on skull. Most cases of anemia are treatable when they are diagnosed properly.
Types and Causes
Varieties of anemia can be broken down into three main categories. These include anemia prompted by large amounts of blood loss, lack of red blood cell production, and an accelerated breakdown of red blood cells. A traumatic injury or internal bleeding may cause significant blood loss, leading to anemia. Vitamin deficiencies can be the cause of a reduction in red blood cell production. Iron is not the only nutritional deficiency that plays a part in the onset of anemia. A lack of B12 or thalassemia can also contribute to the problem. Some cases are even caused by a reduction of neoplasms in the bone marrow. The genetic disease, sickle cell anemia, causes a breakdown of the red blood cells. This breakdown can also be initiated by other diseases, such as autoimmune disorders and malaria.
Anemia can further be categorized as either microcytic or macrocytic. These categories have to do with the amount of hemoglobin in the red blood cells, and their size. Microcytic cases involve small red blood cells, while macrocytic cases result in large red blood cells. Cases where the red blood cells remain a normal size are referred to as normocytic. Hemoglobin amounts in anemic individuals can vary, depending on gender. In men, low hemoglobin is considered less than 130-140 g/L. In women, the numbers that point to anemia are lower than 120-130 g/L.
Many individuals do not suspect anemia when they first start experiencing symptoms. This is because the symptoms can mimic common ailments and exhaustion. Often, the first sign to appear is a type of fatigue. A person may complain of being low in energy or easily tired out after normal activities. Shortness of breath may occur after small amounts of physical stress, such as waling up a flight of stairs. The ability to concentrate on daily tasks may accompany this exhaustion. When this reaches a more severe state, the body may respond by increasing the cardiac output. This can be determined by presenting with angina, heart palpitations, and heart failure.
A pale appearance of the skin is a common sign of anemia, as well. This paleness can also be noticed in the lining of the mucous membranes and nail beds. Normal skin tone shows with a bit of pink, proving good circulation. Skin that has gone pale may look “ghost like.” A jittery feeling in the legs when at rest can signal an anemic issue, as well. This is commonly referred to as “restless leg syndrome.”
Some patients begin to crave items that are not normally consumed by humans, or that does not have any nutritional value. This is called “pica.” The propensity to chew on ice is common among anemic individuals. Other items that are often of concern are dirt, grass, and paper. Children with anemia can experience a halt in their development. Neurological complications may be observed. Babies may not meet developmental milestones and older children may have problems with performance in school.
Risk and Treatment
Some groups of people are at higher risk than others. Pregnancy can cause a temporary anemic state. Prenatal vitamins with iron are often given as a preemptive strike against a deficiency. Anemia is more common in men, however, this may have to do with the fact that women give birth. Elderly people that are unable to eat a variety of foods may need to take supplements, as well. Children are in a constant state of development and their nutrition should be consistent. Supplements are often given to children, as they can be picky eaters.
Treatment varies depending on the type and severity of the anemia. Blood transfusions are common when the red blood cell count reaches extremely low levels. Dietary changes and supplements are used to treat mild cases of anemia that are due to iron or B12 deficiencies. Iron supplements can be given in pill form or by injection. Hyperbaric oxygen may be used in cases where blood loss has been significant. An erythropoiesis-stimulating agent (ESA) may be given in severe cases of low hemoglobin. This treatment stimulates the bone marrow to make more red blood cells. A positive aspect of this treatment, is that it can be tailored to the individual’s needs and help to avoid a transfusion.
Anemia is a potentially deadly complication that must be treated properly. When discovered in its early stages, anemia is often easily treated with simple dietary changes. The warning signs are often mistaken for simple exhaustion. Individuals with busy or stressful lifestyles may not recognize them as a medical issue. Regular medical checkups, complete with bloodwork, can help to catch anemia in its early stages. Those in higher risk groups can work with their doctor to prevent anemia, as well. In developed countries with a sufficient food supply, anemia is less of a threat.
Communities without proper food availability, and lower income areas, may suffered higher incidences of the disease. Severe cases can require more drastic treatments. It is important to pay attention to changes in your energy levels, physical appearance, and mental state. Early detection is key for a quick recovery.