Anemia is regarded as a relatively common condition due to the high prevalence rates. This actually compounds the problem further, as most individuals are likely to consider it as less serious. On the contrary, the condition can manifest gradually into serious health complications. It is necessary to take suitable remedial measures to treat the condition effectively, before it could turn debilitating in nature. Let’s study the factors that contribute to the condition and the best way to deal with it, by minimizing the side effects of anemia. To put the high rates of prevalence into perspective, one in every ten women in the US have anemia, while one in every twenty males are known to have the condition.


How to recognize if a person is anemic?


The hemoglobin in red blood cells have a pivotal role in oxygen supply from the lungs to the body. Hemoglobin also happens to be the iron containing protein which gives the red blood cells their distinct red color. A reduction in RBC can result in adverse or sometimes severe consequences. Let us understand more about the condition, its classification and how to broadly identify the condition.


What is anemia?


Here is a quick overview of the condition, which will help understand the possibility of individuals ending up with anemia. Globally, one third of the population is anemic, and this is a common blood disorder. The condition refers to low blood count, which effectively means that the anemic person has lesser number of red blood cells. Conditions that can cause low blood count include sudden loss of blood, breakdown of red blood cells and health complications that impact the production of red blood cells.


Life of red blood cells


The life of red blood cells is around 100 days, and various functions in the body combine to produce and replace the red blood cells. Bone marrow produces the red blood cells and anemia could be the result of lesser production of the cells in the bone marrow or could be the result of loss of red blood cells. Diagnosis also involves understanding the number of white blood cells and platelets. One of the reasons for less production of red blood cells is poor functioning or coordination between the bone marrow, nutrients, and the kidneys. All have essential role in the production of red blood cells. This effectively means that individuals with impaired kidney functions are likely to be anemic; persons with poor nutrient intake may end up with anemia and individuals with impaired bone marrow functioning may also end up as anemic.


Categorization of anemia


Anemia is typically classified as acute or chronic, with the former referring to quick occurrence of the condition, while chronic anemia refers to development over a relatively longer period. A clear understanding of this difference in category will help in determining the manner in which the symptoms may develop in the future. For instance, in chronic cases, the onset of symptoms are slow, while in acute cases, the onset is fast, necessitating suitable treatment.


Classification by size of red blood cells


Anemia is also classified by the size of the blood cells. For instance, when the blood cells are smaller in size than the average or normal size, it is microcytic anemia. When the size of the blood cells are normal with lesser than normal count, it is normocytic anemia. When the blood cells are larger than normal size, it is macrocytic anemia. Different reasons are attributed to these three types. The first condition is typically attributed to lower levels of iron in the body, apart from inherited conditions including thalassemia. The second condition is mainly the result of impaired kidney functions or diseases. The third condition is usually the result of excessive drinking, lack of vitamin B12, stomach conditions or auto immune disease.


Are symptoms different as per the type of anemia?


Symptoms experienced by individuals may differ, depending on the type of anemia. Persons with folic acid anemia are likely to experience bouts of diarrhea, apart from an easily discernible or visible symptom – a smooth tongue. Hemolytic anemia could trigger a different set of symptoms such as discoloration of urine, low-grade fever and symptoms consistent with jaundice. Aplastic anemia could trigger fever, and infections that are frequent in nature. Rashes are also another possible symptom among individuals with this this type of anemia.  Individuals with sickle cell anemia are likely to witness unusual and painful swelling in limb extremities, and abnormal fatigue.


What kind of symptoms are common to most types of anemia?


The exact type of anemia can be determined by tests in the laboratory, with certain unique or indicative symptoms as outlined above. However, certain symptoms can be considered as common to most types of anemia and can be used to determine if the individual is anemic. It is important to add that symptoms may not be experienced by individuals with mild or moderate anemia. Fatigue is a common symptom that could indicate anemia. Other symptoms include pale colored skin, and some discomfort in the chest. This pain in the chest may sometimes be accompanied by changed pace of heart beats. Shortness of breath is another symptom that indicates possible anemia. Tell tale conditions include headache and possible light headedness.


What conditions could contribute to anemia?


By virtue of the RBC being the determining factor for anemia, it is necessary to carry out necessary tests at a laboratory to understand the reason for anemia. This is because, low RBC count could be the result of blood loss, or ailments. This includes chronic conditions such as cancer, ulcer and tumors. Loss of blood is also possible due to various conditions such as gastrointestinal conditions, hemorrhoids, and gastritis. Finally, women in menstruation may also be anemic as a result of heavy loss of blood during periods.


Conditions that have an indirect impact on RBC count 


In addition to the above, there are conditions that indirectly bring about a reduction in RBC count. Leukemia causes abnormal production of white blood cells, and this has an impact on bone marrow and RBC count. Aplastic anemia refers to the reduced stem cell count in the bone marrow which in turn causes low RBC count. Thalassemia is another hereditary condition wherein the RBCs do not grow or mature, and this is a reason for anemia.

Who are at risk of turning anemic?


Prevalence of anemia is common, as can be seen from the nearly one third of afflictions among global populations. However, certain individuals are prone or more susceptible to turn anemic than others. This includes pregnant women who may experience acute anemia due to rapid loss of blood. Similarly, women who shed excessive amount of blood during menstruation are also at risk of turning anemic. Prematurely born babies are at a disadvantage, as such babies are at more risk of developing anemia at some stage in life. Patients on medications that have side effects such as internal bleeding are also likely to turn anemic.


As mentioned earlier, lack of nutrients are a reason for anemia, and this effectively means that malnourished or undernourished persons could turn anemic. Persons with certain conditions that are genetically inherited are at risk of experiencing side effects of anemia. Diseases such as cancer, impaired renal functioning, AIDS and liver conditions are causative factors for anemia. This could be direct in nature, such as loss of blood or could be indirect and affect the bone marrow or the kidneys which are responsible for RBC count. Gastrointestinal conditions are known to cause loss of blood and this could also make patients anemic.


What treatments are generally prescribed for anemic patients?

Anemic patients are prescribed treatment upon assessing the reasons that cause low blood count.  Treatment regimen is focused on managing the conditions that cause the low blood count, so as to increase the count to the desired levels. As blood count increases, oxygen level and supply increases, resulting in lesser health complications. Common treatments include the following :


Anemia types due to other conditions


Apart from commonly known types and conditions that are known to cause anemia, there are other types attributable to certain conditions. For instance, rapid and abnormal break down of RBCs result in blockage of small blood vessels, thereby reducing oxygen levels and triggering pain. Similarly, Crohn’s disease is another reason that results in iron deficiency anemia. Blood donors are also likely to end up anemic, if the frequency of blood donation is on the higher side. Athletes and individuals in sporting activities, with extreme fitness regimens are also likely to end up anemic. Vitamin deficiency anemia is another condition that results from imbalanced diets where individuals do not consume adequate vitamin B-12 and folate.


Another condition that is responsible for anemia is shorter lifespan of RBCs. As mentioned earlier, the typical lifespan is around 100 days and when certain conditions cause shorter lifespan, the individual ends up anemic. Auto immune disorders result in the immune system attacking the RBCs, which result in faster than normal breakdown. Individuals with hypertension may also end up with side effects of anemia, as high blood pressure is another reason for faster breakdown of RBCs. Infections are also known to cause abnormal or shorter lifespan/destruction of RBCs, resulting in anemia. Liver conditions and renal impairment can produce toxins that end up destroying or shortening the lifespan of RBCs. Snake bite victims may also end up with acute anemia due to the release of toxins. Similarly, persons stung by specific spider species are also known to turn anemic due to the toxins released in the sting. Another condition that needs to be remembered is the impact of prosthetic heart valves, that can cause a condition known medically as intravascular hemolysis. This condition is considered as a major complication that can affect almost fifteen percent of patients with prosthetic heart valves. This is attributed to structural deterioration or possible paravalvular leak. Procedures are presently available to help prevent the complication, and require therapeutic measures to be initiated in a manner that is patient-specific. In other words, this will differ from patient to patient depending on the condition and various factors.



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