What is anemia?
Anemia happens when the number of healthy red blood cells in your body is
too low. Red blood cells carry oxygen to all of the body’s tissues, so a low red blood cell count
indicates that the amount of
oxygen in your blood is lower than it should be. Many of the symptoms of
anemia are caused by decreased oxygen delivery to the body’s vital tissues and
Anemia is measured according to the amount of hemoglobin, which is the
protein within red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body’s
tissues. According to the , about 3.4 million Americans suffer from anemia. Women and people
with chronic diseases such as cancer have the highest risk of developing
What causes anemia?
Dietary iron, vitamin B-12, and folate are essential for red blood cells to
mature in the body. Normally, 0.8 to 1 percent of the body’s red blood cells
are replaced every day, and the average lifespan for red cells is 100 to 120
days. In general, any process that has a negative effect on this balance between
red blood cell production and destruction can cause anemia.
Causes of anemia are generally divided into those that decrease red blood
cell production and those that increase red blood cell destruction.
Factors that decrease red blood cell production include:
On the other hand, any disorder that destroys red blood cells at a rate
that’s faster than they’re made can cause anemia. Factors that increase red
blood cell destruction include:
- hemorrhage from:
- cirrhosis, which involves scarring of the liver
or scar tissue, within the bone marrow
which is the rupture of red blood cells that can occur with some medications or
of the liver and spleen
disorders such as:
Overall, however, iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia. Iron
intake is a major index for the health assessment of nations. According to the , an estimated 2 billion people worldwide have anemia,
and many have it because of iron deficiency.
Daily nutritional requirements and anemia
Daily requirements for vitamins and iron vary according to sex and age. Women
need more iron and folate than men because of iron losses during their
menstrual cycle and fetal development during pregnancy and lactation.
According to the , the recommended daily
iron intake for women age 19 to 50 is 18 milligrams (mg). The daily iron intake
for men of the same age range is 8 mg. During pregnancy, daily iron intake
should increase to 27 mg, but women who are breastfeeding only need 9 mg per
Men and women over the age of 50 require 8 mg of iron daily. A supplement
may be needed if adequate iron levels can’t be reached through diet alone.
sources of dietary iron include:
and beef liver
meats, such as beef
Folate is the form of folic acid that occurs naturally in the body. Males
and females over the age of 14 require (mcg/DFE) per day. For women who
are pregnant or breastfeeding, the recommended intake increases to 600 mcg/DFE
(pregnant) and 500 mcg/DFE (lactating) per day.
Examples of foods rich in folate are:
You can also add folic acid to your diet with fortified cereals and breads.
The daily adult recommendation for vitamin B-12 is . Women and teens who are pregnant need 2.6 mcg per day, and women who
are breastfeeding require 2.8 mcg daily.
Beef liver and clams are two of the best sources of vitamin B-12. Other good sources
Vitamin B-12 is also available as a supplement for those who don’t get
enough from their diet alone.
What are the symptoms of anemia?
People with anemia appear pale and may often
complain of being cold. They may also have lightheadedness or
dizziness, especially when they are active or standing up. Some people with
anemia have unusual cravings
such as wanting to eat
ice, clay, or dirt. They often complain of feeling tired and have problems
and concentration. Some anemias can cause inflammation of the tongue, resulting
in a smooth, glossy, red, and often painful tongue.
If anemia is severe, fainting
may occur. Other symptoms include brittle nails, shortness of breath, and chest
pains. Blood oxygen levels can be so low that a person with severe anemia can
have a heart attack.
A physical exam that your doctor does may show:
People with symptoms of anemia should seek medical attention.
How is anemia
A diagnosis of anemia begins with your health history, and that of your
family, and a physical exam. Laboratory tests help doctors to find out the
cause of the anemia. A family history of certain types of anemia such as sickle
cell anemia can be helpful. A history of exposure to toxic agents in the home
or workplace might point to an environmental cause.
Tests to diagnose anemia include:
Complete blood count (CBC)
This blood test tells
doctors the number and size of the RBCs. It also shows if other blood cells
like white blood cells and platelets are normal.
Serum iron levels
This blood test
shows if iron deficiency is the cause of anemia.
This blood test
analyzes iron stores.
Vitamin B-12 test
This blood test shows vitamin B-12 levels and determines if they are too
This blood test reveals if serum folate levels are too low.
Stool test for occult
This test applies a chemical to a stool specimen to see if blood is present.
If the test is positive, it means that blood is being lost anywhere in the
gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the rectum. Problems like stomach ulcers, ulcerative colitis,
and colon cancer
can cause blood to be in stool.
Based on the results of these tests, doctors may order additional studies
such as an upper
GI, a barium enema,
chest X-rays, or a CT scan of your
How to treat anemia
The treatment for anemia depends on its cause. Anemia caused by inadequate
amounts of dietary iron, vitamin B-12, and folate is treated with nutritional
supplements. In some cases, injections of B-12 are needed as it isn’t absorbed
properly from the digestive tract. Your doctor and nutritionist can prescribe a
diet that contains proper amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. A
proper diet can help prevent this kind of anemia from recurring.
In some cases, if the anemia is severe, doctors use erythropoietin
injections to increase red blood cell production in the bone marrow. If
bleeding occurs or the hemoglobin level is very low, a blood
transfusion may be necessary.
What is the outlook
The long-term outlook for anemia depends on the cause and the response to
treatment. Anemia is very treatable, but it can be dangerous if it’s left
untreated. Pay attention to food labels and invest in a multivitamin to ensure
that you’re getting the recommended daily amount of iron.
Talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of anemia,
especially if you have a family history of anemia. Your doctor will most likely
get you started on a diet or supplement regimen to increase your iron intake.
An iron deficiency may also be a sign of more serious medical conditions, so
it’s important to pay attention to your body. In most cases, just tweaking your
diet or taking an iron supplement can solve your anemia.