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Home :: Anemia

Anemia - Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Alternative names :- Anemia - iron deficiency

Millions of Americans suffer from anemia, a reduction in either the number of red blood cells or the amount of hemoglobin in the blood. This results in a decrease in the amount of oxygen that the blood is able to carry. Anemia reduces the amount of oxygen available to the cells of the body. As a result, they have less energy available to perform their normal functions. Important processes, such as muscular activity and cell building and repair, slow down and become less efficient. When the brain lacks oxygen, dizziness may result, and mental faculties are less sharp.

Types of anemia

  • Iron deficiency anemia - the most common cause.
  • Sickle Cell Anemia
  • Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia
  • Pernicious anemia
  • Thalassemia.
  • Secondary aplastic anemia.

Anemia is not a disease, but rather a symptom of various diseases. Anything that causes a deficiency in the formation or production of red blood cells, or that leads to the too-rapid destruction of red blood cells, can result in anemia. It is sometimes the first detectable sign of arthritis, infection, or certain major illnesses, including cancer. Drug use, hormonal disorders, chronic inflammation in the body, surgery, infections, peptic ulcers, hemorrhoids, diverticular disease, heavy menstrual bleeding, repeated pregnancies, liver damage, thyroid disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, bone marrow disease, and dietary deficiencies (especially deficiencies of iron, folic acid, and vitamins B6 and B12) can all lead to anemia. There are also a number of hereditary disorders, such as sickle cell disease and thalassemia, that cause anemia. Sickle cell anemia affects about 31,000 people (mostly of African-American descent) in the United States. It is a rare, inherited blood disease that causes red blood cells to become brittle and crescent-shaped. Painful "crises" arise when affected cells become jammed in narrow blood vessels, producing painful swelling of the hands and feet accompanied by fever, fatigue, and pneumonia-like symptoms.

Pernicious anemia is a severe form of anemia that is due to vitamin B12 deficiency. Persons with this disorder cannot absorb any form of vitamin B12 from the gastrointestinal tract. Malabsorption can cause pernicious anemia, as can poor eating habits, gastrointestinal infection, Crohn's disease, gastric surgery, and sometimes even strict vegetarianism. If B12 levels fall too far, the result is lagging energy, depression, indigestion, diarrhea, and anemia. Ongoing vitamin B12 deficiency carries a risk of neurological damage.

Causes of anemia

The most common cause of anemia is iron deficiency. Iron is an important factor in anemia because this mineral is used to make hemoglobin, the component of red blood cells that attaches to oxygen and transports it. Red blood cells exist only to oxygenate the body, and have a life span of about 120 days. If a person lacks sufficient iron, the formation of red blood cells is impaired. Iron-deficiency anemia can be caused by insufficient iron intake and/or absorption, or by significant blood loss. The latter is commonly seen in women who suffer from menorrhagia (heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding), which in turn may be caused by a hormonal imbalance, fibroid tumors, or uterine cancer. Women who use intrauterine devices for contraception are also at a higher risk of blood loss, as are those who overuse anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen, which can cause blood loss through irritation of the digestive tract. Excessive aspirin usage, particularly by elderly people, may cause internal bleeding.

Signs and symptoms of anemia

Anemia's symptoms can easily go unrecognized. The first signs of developing anemia may be loss of appetite, constipation, headaches, irritability, and/ or difficulty in concentrating. Established anemia can produce such symptoms as weakness; fatigue; coldness of the extremities; depression; dizziness; overall pallor, most noticeable in pale and brittle nails; pale lips and eyelids; soreness in the mouth; and in women, cessation of menstruation. Anemia has also been linked to a loss of libido. Of those suffering from anemia, 20 percent are women and 50 percent are children.

Anemia should always be investigated and the cause determined. If you are anemic and your diet is ironclad, your physician can run a simple test called ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate) to detect any inflammation lurking in the body.

Treatment for anemia (iron deficiency)

Suggested dosage
Vitamin C plus
3,000-10,000 mg daily
in divided doses.
Important in iron absorption.
Brewer's yeast As directed on label. Rich in basic nutrients and a good source of B vitamins.
Vitamin B12 2,000 mcg 3 times daily Essential in red blood cell production and to break down and prepare protein for cellular use.
  • Alfalfa, bilberry, cherry, dandelion, goldenseal, grape skins, hawthorn berry, mullein, nettle, Oregon grape root, pau d'arco, red raspberry, shepherd's purse, and yellow dock are good for anemia.
  • Include the following in your diet: apples, apricots, asparagus, bananas, broccoli, egg yolks, kelp, leafy greens, okra, parsley, peas, plums, prunes, purple grapes, raisins, rice bran, squash, turnip greens, whole grains, and yams. Also eat foods high in vitamin C to enhance iron absorption.
  • Herbalists consider nettle (Urtica dioica), a nutritious plant rich in iron, vitamin C, chlorophyll, and other minerals, an effective supplement in the treatment of iron­deficiency anemia.
  • Eat foods containing oxalic acid in moderation or omit them from the diet. Oxalic acid interferes with iron absorption. Foods high in oxalic acid include almonds, cashews, chocolate, cocoa, kale, rhubarb, soda, sorrel, spinach, Swiss chard, and most nuts and beans.
  • Consume at least 1 tablespoon of blacks trap molasses twice daily (for a child, use 1 teaspoon in a glass of milk or formula twice daily). Blackstrap molasses is a good source of iron and essential B vitamins.

Considerations and prevention tips

  • Do not smoke. Avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Do not take calcium, vitamin E, zinc, or antacids at the same time as iron supplements. These can interfere with iron absorption.
  • Physicians can sometimes detect vitamin B12 deficiency by measuring serum B12 levels, taking a complete blood cell count, and doing a blood test called the Schilling test, which evaluates B12 absorption. Persons with pernicious anemia must take vitamin B12 sublingually (dissolved under the tongue), by retention enema, or by injection. This treatment must be maintained for life, unless the underlying cause of the deficiency can be corrected.
  • Avoid beer, candy bars, dairy products, ice cream, and soft drinks. Additives in these foods interfere with iron absorption. For the same reason, avoid coffee (which contains polyphenols) and tea (which contains tannins).
  • During periods of increased requirements, such as pregnancy and lactation, increase dietary intake or take iron supplements.

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