What is Anemia

What is Anemia, do you've heard? Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells provide oxygen to body tissues. General Symptoms: You may have no symptoms if the anemia is mild. Anemia occurs when there isn't enough hemoglobin (an iron-protein compound in red blood cells that transports oxygen) in the blood and there are too few red blood cells. Anemias are the most common blood disorder; there are several types of anemia. They are usually caused by an iron deficiency. In Canada, approximately 20% of women, 50% of pregnant women, and 3% of men are iron deficient. Overall, it occurs in two out of 1,000 people.

Some infants may need extra iron, especially if they are bottle-fed with cow's milk. This is why doctors often prescribe iron supplements during infancy and why infant diets are iron fortified and only iron-fortified formulas should be used.

The body needs the iron to make hemoglobin. Except in cases of malnourished infants, iron deficiency is almost always caused by long-term blood loss due to factors such as heavy menstrual periods, peptic ulcer disease, long-term ASA use, colon cancer, uterine cancer, and malignancies (cancerous tumors). It may also occur if there's not enough iron-containing food in the person's diet or if there's poor absorption of iron (such as in the case of people who have had gastric bypass surgery).

This form of anemia occurs quite often in pre-menopausal women because women lose blood during menstruation. Pregnant women who don't take iron supplements may develop iron deficiency anemia because their iron stores are used as a source of hemoglobin for the baby.

Many people, however, are unaware of just how tired they were until after they've been treated.

In addition to feeling tired and having less energy, the person may have pale skin, gums, nail beds, and eyelid linings. Eventually, if anemia becomes severe enough, the heartbeat may become more rapid and noticeable.

Other symptoms of iron deficiency anemias may include:
  • irritability
  • weakness
  • shortness of breath
  • low blood pressure (especially when going from lying or sitting to standing)
  • sore tongue
  • brittle nails
  • unusual food cravings (called pica)
  • decreased appetite (especially in children)
  • headache
To diagnose anemia, your doctor may recommend:
Physical exam. During a physical exam your doctor may listen to your heart and your breathing. Your doctor may also place his or her hands on your abdomen to feel the size of your liver and spleen.

Complete blood count (CBC). A CBC is used to count the number of blood cells in a sample of your blood. For anemia, your doctor will be interested in the levels of the red blood cells contained in the blood (hematocrit) and the hemoglobin in your blood.

Normal adult hematocrit values vary from one medical practice to another, but are generally between 38.8 and 50 percent for men and 34.9 and 44.5 percent for women. Normal adult hemoglobin values are generally 13.5 to 17.5 grams per deciliter for men and 12 to 15.5 grams per deciliter for women.

A test to determine the size and shape of your red blood cells. Some of your red blood cells may also be examined for unusual size, shape and color. Doing so can help pinpoint a diagnosis. For example, in iron deficiency anemia, red blood cells are smaller and paler in color than normal. In vitamin deficiency anemias, red blood cells are enlarged and fewer in number.

Additional tests
If you receive a diagnosis of anemia, your doctor may order additional tests to determine the underlying cause. For example, iron deficiency anemia can result from chronic bleeding of ulcers, benign polyps in the colon, colon cancer, tumors, or kidney failure. Your doctor may test for these and other conditions that may underlie the anemia.

Occasionally, it may be necessary to study a sample of your bone marrow to diagnose anemia. read another about cancer: What is breast cancer