Anaemia

What is anaemia?

Anaemia is a condition in which there is a low concentration of haemoglobin in red blood cells or a deficiency in the number of red blood cells themselves.

Red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to cells throughout the rest of the body and haemoglobin is an iron-rich protein that gives the blood its red colour and binds to oxygen molecules, allowing red blood cells to carry them.

There are different types of anaemia:

What are the symptoms of anaemia?

The common symptoms of anaemia are:

If the anaemia becomes severe, it can cause an increased heart rate, which may also be accompanied by chest pain, angina and can even lead to heart attacks. Other alarming symptoms are:

  • Pale skin
  • Nails that break easily
  • Pica (the desire to eat non-food items, such as ice or dirt)
  • Sore tongue
  • Jaundice (if the anaemia is related to abnormal breakdown of red blood)

Causes of anaemia

There are three main causes of anaemia:

  1. Blood loss
  2. Impaired red blood cells production
  3. Increased destruction of red blood cells

These factors may be caused or exacerbated by other conditions. For example, more blood than normal may be lost during an injury because of clotting issues such as haemophilia; the lack of production of red blood cells may be due to an autoimmune disorder or infection that damages the bone marrow responsible for creating red blood cells; and the rapid destruction of red blood cells may be the result of hereditary spherocytosis, a disease that makes red blood cells too fragile.

Also, the body needs vitamins, minerals and nutrients such as iron, vitamin B12 or folic acid to make red blood cells. Deficiencies in these can also contribute towards anaemia, meaning that conditions like coeliac disease, which affect the intestine’s ability to absorb the constituents of digested food, can lead to anaemia.

Other possible causes include:

  • Some medications
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Chronic diseases, such as cancer, ulcerative colitis or arthritis.
  • Genetic factors (especially in thalassemia and sickle cell anaemia)

Can anaemia be prevented?

To prevent some episodes of anaemia, especially those that are related to iron and vitamin deficiency, it is advisable to follow a strict diet or take food supplements.

What is the treatment for anaemia?

The treatment of anaemia will depend on the type, cause, and severity of the anaemia. The doctor may recommend:

  • Changes in diet or supplements – increase the intake of iron, vitamin B12, folic acid or vitamin C.
  • Medication – this may include antibiotics to treat infections, hormones to decrease menstrual bleeding or a number of other possible treatments.
  • In severe cases, blood transfusions, stem cells or bone marrow transplants may be needed.