Anaemia is a blood disorder affecting millions across the world. According to the findings of a study published in the journal Nutrients, two-third of pregnant women in developing countries are hit by this condition. It is one of the major culprits behind maternal mortality and low birthweight.
What is Anaemia?
This is a condition characterised by low count of red blood cells. You are diagnosed with this condition if your blood test reveals that you have low haemoglobin, the main protein of red blood cells. Its main function is to supply oxygen to different parts of the body. So, when the level of this protein is low, there is a depletion of oxygen in your vital organs or tissues. This condition gives you symptoms like extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, so on and so forth. There are multiple triggers behind this blood disorder. However, the most common cause is iron deficiency.
The symptoms of anaemia may vary depending on the underlying cause behind this blood disorder, severity and associated complications. However, there could be some generic manifestations too. Here are some of them:
- Depleted energy levels
- Abnormally rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Headache, particularly with exercise
- Difficulty concentrating
- Pale skin
- Leg cramps
What causes Anaemia?
There could be innumerable culprits behind anaemia. Here are the most common causes behind this blood disorder:
- Blood loss
- Iron deficiency
- Distorted shape of your red blood cells (Sickle cell anaemia)
- Deficiency of vitamins, especially B12 or Folate
- Destruction of red blood cells
Certain chronic conditions don’t allow your body to produce hormones responsible for the synthesis of red blood cells. These increase your risk of getting anaemia:
Age and exposure to toxic metals like lead can also be major risk factors for anaemia.
Diagnosis of Anaemia
In order to detect anaemia, your doctor will first review your medical and family health history and follow it up with a physical exam. He may also want to assess your risk factors of this condition. So, expect questions on your exposure to environmental toxins which can increase your risk of this blood disorder. If your physician finds suspects anaemia, he may suggest the following tests:
Complete blood count (CBC)
It reveals the count of red and white blood cells as well as platelets. Abnormal range indicates anaemia.
Serum iron levels
It tells your doctor if iron deficiency is the culprit behind this blood disorder.
This is another blood test that reveals your iron reserves.
Vitamin B-12 test
Depleted blood level of this vitamin can be another indicator of anaemia.
Apart from these, your doctor may also suggest additional blood tests to check the levels of vitamin B 12, folate, fragility of red blood cells, defects in certain enzymes and clotting issues.
Treatment for Anaemia
The line of treatment for this blood disorder depends on the underlying cause and severity of the condition. You may need additional treatments in case of associated complications.
Anaemia caused by blood loss: In this case, the source of bleeding is identified first and then efforts are made at stopping it. Oxygen therapy and blood transfusion may be required.
Anaemia caused by iron deficiency: Iron supplementation is the usual line of treatment. Generally, the ferrous form of iron is prescribed as it’s easier for your body to absorb it. Taking your iron capsule with orange juice or any other vitamin C works best. Your doctor will also suggest you to increase dietary intake of iron with the help of foods like red meat, beans, egg yolk, whole-grain products, nuts, and seafood. In rare cases you may need intravenous iron injections and blood transfusion. During the course of treatment, your red blood cell count, ferritin (an iron containing protein) and haemoglobin levels will be regularly monitored.
Anaemia caused by distorted red blood cells (Sickle cell anaemia): The aim of treatment is symptom relief. Oral medications for managing symptoms like pain, headache, nausea, diarrhoea, fatigue, etc. may be prescribed. While some may require blood transfusion, kids and teenagers may require a stem cell transplant.
Anaemia caused by deficiency of vitamins: Your doctor may prescribe vitamin B12 injections or pills while advising you to increase your dietary intake of this vitamin. Good food sources include meat, fish, oysters, milk, cheese, and eggs. In case of folate deficiency, folic acid supplements may be advised. Including fresh fruits, green leafy vegetables, dairy products and whole grain cereals will be a good idea. Do not overcook the vegetables if you want to retain the nutritional value.
Anaemia caused by destruction of red blood cells: The trigger behind cell destruction needs to be identified. And avoiding it altogether can lead to remission without any treatment. Surgical intervention may be required for associated complications like faulty heart valves, tumour or abnormal blood vessels. In extreme cases the spleen may need to be removed as the last resort. Supportive treatment may include pain medication, intravenous fluids, steroids (to prevent the immune cells from attacking red blood cells) and blood transfusion.
Having a well-balanced meal diet is a must if the culprit behind your anaemia is iron deficiency. Your doctor and nutritionist may advise you to include these iron-rich foods for healing this form of anaemia:
- Leafy greens like spinach and poultry
- Meat and poultry
- Nuts and Seeds
Prevention of Anaemia
Anaemia caused due to genetic predisposition cannot be prevented. However, eating a well-balanced diet rich in iron and vitamin B 12 can reduce your risk of certain forms of this blood disorder. Here are the steps to follow:
- If your work exposes you to lead-containing materials such as batteries, petroleum and house paints, maintain the safety guidelines.
- Increase you’re the intake of vitamin C as this nutrient improves your body’s capacity to absorb iron.
- Be careful about the consumption of caffeinated beverages. They can affect your iron absorption capacities.