What is anaemia?
Anaemia is a condition which occurs when you have an abnormally
low amount of red blood cells. Red blood cells contain haemoglobin, a red pigment which gives
blood its colour. The job of haemoglobin is to carry oxygen around the
body. When red blood cells and therefore haemoglobin are low the blood
fails to supply the body's tissues with sufficient amounts of oxygen.
As your lungs and heart will then have to work harder to get oxygen
into the blood, symptoms of anaemia, such as difficulty in breathing
will begin to develop.
Anaemia mainly affects women during pregnancy or women
who suffer with heavy periods.
What causes anaemia?
There is not usually one cause of anaemia, however,
the following are reasons why anaemia may develop:
- Heavy periods.
- Diet low in iron.
- Internal bleeding, for example if you have an ulcer or a tumour.
- Diet low in vitamin B12 or folic
- Blood diseases such as leukaemia.
- Infections, such as malaria.
What are the different types of anaemia?
The main types of anaemia are caused by
shortages of iron, vitamin B12 and folic acid, all of which are needed
(among other things) to produce red blood cells, so if one or more of
these are missing or running low then anaemia will develop.
Iron deficiency anaemia
The most common type of anaemia is iron
deficiency anaemia, which basically means the body is running low on
iron. The body needs iron to successfully produce haemoglobin the substance
that carries oxygen throughout the body.
The main reason why people may have a
shortage of iron is because the body is losing blood faster than the
body can remake it. This can be caused by gastritis, piles, stomach
cancer, ulcers or bowel
cancer. In women the most common reason for iron deficiency
is menstrual bleeding (periods). Another possible reason for a shortage
of iron is diet, which is low in iron. Good sources of iron include
fruit, dark green vegetables, wholemeal bread, fortified breakfast cereals,
beans and meat.
Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia
The main cause of vitamin B12 deficiency
anaemia (also called pernicious anaemia) is when there is inadequate
absorption of vitamin B12 from the diet. This can be due to ulcers,
stomach cancer, diseases of the small
intestine or from the after effects of surgery.
A vegan or vegetarian is at risk of developing
pernicious anaemia because vitamin B12 is only found in foods of animal
origin. Vitamin B12 can be found in liver, meat and dairy products.
Vitamin B12 is also essential for the nervous system,
so if you have a lack of vitamin B12 you can also develop inflammation of the nerves or dementia.
Folic Acid deficiency
The main reason why you may have a lack
of folic acid is due to a poor diet and if you drink excessive alcohol it can reduce the uptake of folic acid. Folic acid can be found in fresh
fruit, raw green vegetables, beans and whole grain cereals.
Folic acid deficiency and vitamin B12
deficiency anaemia may also be known as megaloblastic anaemia.
For more information on a healthy balanced diet click
What symptoms are linked with anaemia?
As anaemia causes a shortage of oxygen, the main symptom
is usually chronic tiredness and palpitations.
Other symptoms you may get could include:
- Pale appearance
- Shortness of breath and dizziness
- A red, sore tongue and a reduced sense of taste, this
is usually only a symptom with folic acid and vitamin B12 deficiency
Is there anything I can do to avoid becoming anaemic?
To avoid getting anaemia you should stick to a healthy
balanced diet and ensure you eat food that contains good
sources of iron, folic acid and vitamin B12. You should also cut down
on alcohol consumption. If you are a strict vegetarian you should take
vitamin B12 supplements to avoid deficiency.
How is anaemia diagnosed?
Anaemia test Kit
Very few tests are needed to diagnose anaemia, the main
test is a full blood count, this is basically a blood test that looks
at the number, size and shape of red blood cells. The doctor may also
measure iron, vitamin B12 and folic acid levels. If anaemia is diagnosed
and there is no obvious cause, your doctor may suggest you have an x-ray
to ensure there is no internal bleeding.
is anaemia treated?
The treatment you receive will depend greatly on the
cause of anaemia. Treatment is usually simple and may be resolved with
an improved diet or by taking supplements. If the cause of your anaemia
is vitamin B12 deficiency then your doctor may prescribe vitamin B12
injections. These injections will need to be given every 3 months, usually
throughout the patient's life. It is also possible to have iron injections
but this is not often necessary.
If your anaemia has been caused by internal bleeding
e.g. ulcers then medicines or surgery may be required. If anaemia is
severe then you may also need to have a blood transfusion.
What happens if anaemia is left untreated?
If anaemia is left untreated your symptoms will
get worse and you may become very tired and weak, you may also develop
angina or suffer with leg pains when walking. The body's ability to
fight infection may also be weakened so you may find you pick up infections