According to the World Health Organization, one in four people in the world suffers from anemia. This is a very popular disease that many people simply do not pay attention to. Meanwhile, the consequences of not treating it can be very serious for the body.
Anemia is a condition in which the body lacks red blood cells (red blood cells) or hemoglobin. Red blood cells transport oxygen to organs and tissues in the lungs. It is involved in metabolism, that is, it helps cells to obtain energy from food. If there is not enough oxygen, the internal organs cannot work efficiently: they simply lack energy.
In a general blood test, anemia is indicated by decreased levels of hemoglobin (a key protein that makes up red blood cells). It is this protein that combines with oxygen molecules and transports them throughout the body.
Children, women (especially pregnant women) and the elderly suffer most from this disorder. But young men are not immune to anemia and the serious problems associated with it.
What are the symptoms of anemia?
You don’t always notice a disorder. When the lack of oxygen is small, it has almost no effect on well-being. But if the lack of red blood cells increases, the symptoms of anemia are quite clear. Here they are:
- Rapid fatigue;
- Weakness, unwillingness to do anything;
- Pale or yellowish skin;
- Shortness of breath that comes on easily;
- Increased dizziness, headache attacks;
- Cold, freezing hands and feet;
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat;
- Discomfort, tight feeling in the chest.
What types of anemia are known?
There are more than 400 types of anemia, and they are all divided into three groups.
1. Anemia caused by blood loss
This is when the number of red blood cells decreases because of bleeding: either obvious external or non-obvious internal. It can occur for the following reasons:
- Heavy menstruation in women;
- Gastrointestinal diseases: ulcers, gastritis, hemorrhoids, cancer;
- Injuries or surgical operations that were accompanied by blood loss;
- Uncontrolled use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin or ibuprofen (these can cause gastrointestinal bleeding, ulcers or gastritis).
2. Anemia caused by a decrease or defect in the production of red blood cells
Such cases of anemia are due to the fact that for some reason the body does not produce enough hemoglobin or this protein cannot effectively “cling” to oxygen and transport it to organs and tissues.
This group includes the following types:
Iron deficiency anemia
This is the most common type of anemia. The condition is caused by the body not getting enough iron, a micronutrient needed to produce hemoglobin.
Vitamin deficiency anemia
In addition to iron, the production of red blood cells is not possible without vitamin B9 (folic acid) and B12.
If your diet is low in foods that contain these substances, anemia can occur. Certain medications, alcohol abuse and certain intestinal diseases also lead to vitamin deficiencies.
However, sometimes the same B12 in the diet is enough, but the body simply can’t absorb it. This leads to pernicious perniciosa (Latin: “perniciosa”) – i. e. pernicious anemia.
Anemia associated with bone marrow diseases
Various illnesses, such as leukemia or myelofibrosis, disrupt blood production in the bone marrow, causing a critical lack of red blood cells. Bone marrow can also be damaged by radiation, chemotherapy, certain medications, or lead poisoning.
Sickle cell anemia
This is a hereditary disorder in which red blood cells, normally rounded, take on an abnormal sickle shape. In this condition, they die quickly, resulting in a permanent lack of blood-borne oxygen.
Anemia associated with chronic diseases
This type of anemia occurs when the body does not have enough hormones to produce red blood cells. Hormone deficiencies can be caused by aging, advanced kidney disease, hypothyroidism, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and various types of cancer.
3. Anemia caused by destruction of red blood cells
In such cases, we are talking about the fact that the formed healthy red blood cells, once in the blood, for some reason begin to actively destroy. This condition is called hemolytic anemia.
Destruction of red blood cells can be caused by hereditary genetic factors, autoimmune diseases (such as lupus), snake or spider venom in the body, certain medications, and so on.
What are the dangers of anemia?
There are several reasons why anemia should not be ignored:
Because of “laziness”, a constant feeling of fatigue, you may stop coping with your usual activities: work duties, household chores, taking care of children. There will be no energy left for walks or sports, and this can further worsen your health.
Complications of pregnancy
In pregnant women, anemia can be one of the factors that provoke premature birth.
When the body lacks oxygen, the heart starts pumping more blood so that organs and tissues still get enough O2 for normal metabolism. The increased strain can cause hypertrophy of the heart or heart failure.
Various complications, up to and including death
Anemia can have dozens of causes, including serious chronic diseases. If you don’t pay attention to anemia, you risk missing out on the disease that causes it, which can be deadly.
How to treat anemia?
It depends on its causes. Only a qualified physician can help you understand them, so start by seeing a general practitioner.
Remember: Not all types of anemia can be cured. In some cases, prolonged and expensive treatment is required, including chemotherapy, blood transfusions, bone marrow transplants, and immune system-suppressing medications.
But the most common types of anemia (iron deficiency or vitamin deficiency) are easy to cope with. It is enough to make small changes in your diet.
Your therapist will assess your condition and probably prescribe you the necessary vitamins and supplements in the form of pills. Or simply recommend that you eat a healthy, varied diet that includes:
- Foods high in iron. These are beef, beans, lentils, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruits;
- Lots of folic acid. Vitamin B9 is abundant in fruits and fruit juices, dark green leafy vegetables, green peas, beans, and peanuts;
- Foods rich in vitamin B12. For example, meat and dairy products;
- Foods high in vitamin C. This vitamin improves iron absorption and is found, for example, in citrus fruits, bell peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, strawberries, and melon.
By including foods and supplements with these elements in your diet, you will noticeably reduce your risk of anemia.