What is Anaemia?

Last Updated Jul 29, 2020

What is Anaemia?

Anaemia is a condition rather than a disease itself that results due to a dysfunction in the body.  The condition indicates lower than normal levels of red blood cells or haemoglobin in the body. Red blood cells use haemoglobin (a protein) to carry oxygen around the body, which then in turn performs its various duties.  Low levels of hemoglobin and RBCs cause the blood supply insufficient amounts of Oxygen to the tissues, thus forcing the heart and lungs to work harder to pump additional oxygen to where it is needed.

Different Types of Anaemia

  • Iron deficiency anaemia: This occurs when the body runs low on Iron, mainly due to inadequate dietary intake, diseases such as gastritis and stomach cancer, and menstruation.

  • Pernicious anaemia (B12 deficiency anaemia): This is caused by inadequate absorption of vitamin B12 from the diet. B12 if most commonly sourced from animal food sources thus placing vegetarians and vegans at a higher risk of developing pernicious anaemia. It may also be caused by diseases that affect absorption such as stomach cancers, ulcers and small intestine disease.

  • Megobalstic anaemia (Folic acid deficiency anaemia): This type of anaemia is usually caused by excessive alcohol consumption and inadequate intake of dietary folic acid.

Causes of Anaemia

  • Autoimmune disorders: Autoimmune disease such as autoimmune hemolytic Anaemia cause cells of the immune system target the red blood cells thus reducing their quality and lifespan.

  • Blood loss: Blood loss caused by heavy menstruation, trauma, surgery, peptic ulcers, cancer, bowel cancer or frequent blood donations may cause a reduction and abnormal levels of RBC/haemoglobin.

  • Bone marrow disorders: Including infection or cancer.

  • Chronic diseases:  such as TB may cause a dysfunction in Iron absorption and metabolism.

  • Dietary deficiency: Low levels of RBCs and haemoglobin may occur with low intakes of dietary iron, vitamin B12 and folic acid.

  • Drugs and medications: Certain drugs may affect RBC and haemoglobin levels. Some of these include alcohol, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and anti-coagulant drugs.

  • Hormone disorders: Including hypothyroidism.

  • Infection: Certain infections affect RBC quality thus reduces their lifespan. Some of these include septicemia and malaria.

  • Inherited disorders: Including sickle cell disease or thalassaemia.

  • Malabsorption: Malabsorption issues may cause lower than normal RBC/haemaglobin levels as the body is unable to efficiently absorb nutrients (such as Iron) from foods.

  • Rapid Growth periods: High energy requirement and high growth periods, such as pregnancy and puberty may affect RBC and haemoglobin levels.

Symptoms of Anaemia

  • Abnormal food cravings
  • Angina
  • Appetite loss
  • Difficulties with concentration
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue & weakness
  • Fainting
  • Headaches
  • Heart palpitations
  • Irritability
  • Orthostatic Hypertension – rapid drop in blood pressure upon standing from a lying/sitting position
  • Pale skin
  • Reddened/ cracked tongue
  • Shortness of breath

Those at High Risk of Anaemia

  • Athletes
  • Babies (particularly if premature)
  • Cancer, stomach ulcers and some chronic diseases patients
  • Extreme dieters (fad diets)
  • Menstruating women
  • Pregnant/ breastfeeding women
  • Teenagers going through puberty
  • Vegetarians

How is Anaemia Diagnosed?

  • Blood tests – including complete blood count and blood iron levels, vitamin B12 and folate levels
  • Bone marrow biopsy
  • Faecal occult blood test
  • Gastroscopy or colonoscopy
  • Kidney function tests
  • Medical history
  • Physical examination
  • Urine tests

Traditional Anaemia Treatments

  • Alteration of medication regimen that may be affecting RBC/ haemoglobin levels
  • Antibiotics (if infection has caused the Anaemia)
  • Blood transfusions
  • Injections of Iron
  • Injections of vitamin B12
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Splenectomy (surgery to remove the spleen)
  • Supplementation of deficient vitamins and minerals.
  • Surgery to control heavy, abnormal bleeding

Natural treatments for Anaemia

  • Ayurvedic medicine
  • Nutrition
  • Herbal medicine
  • Homeopathy
Originally published on Aug 05, 2010

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