When should one suspect that he or she is suffering from anemia? To begin with, you feel tired and lazy the entire day with loss of interest and concentration in routine activities. Minimal physical activity leads to breathlessness. Leg cramps and palpitations deprive you of a good night’s sleep. And the craving to eat strange items like paper, raw rice, chalk etc. is very strong. All these symptoms point towards anemia i.e decreasing hemoglobin in your blood, the substance in our red blood cells that carries oxygen to every tissue and keeps them healthy.
There can be many causes of anemia, or the low hemoglobin in blood. Acute blood loss due to heavy bleeding after accident, surgery or menstruation could be a cause. As iron, vitamin B12 and folate are required for the synthesis of hemoglobin in the body, dietary deficiency of any of these 3 components can lead to anemia. Rapid destruction of red blood cells due to infection, autoimmune diseases and certain hemoglobinopathies like thalassemia and sickle cell anemia also cause reduction in hemoglobin levels in blood. Lastly chronic diseases like kidney failure, hypothyroidism and cancer also cause anemia.
A battery of tests may be ordered depending on the associated signs and symptoms in every individual’s case. The complete blood count along with peripheral smear examination, to begin with, tells the amount of hemoglobin in the body along with the number, shape and size of red blood cells. This detail gives a lot of information about the type of anemia and may be a pointer of the underlying cause. Next, the clinician may ask for serum iron, Vitamin B12 and folate levels to rule out dietary causes of anemia. If these values come out normal, then a search for hidden cause like occult blood loss, GI infection or chronic kidney disease is carried out.
If diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia, the treatment lies in first discovering the cause and treating it appropriately. Anemia due to acute blood loss can be treated by arresting the blood loss and giving supportive supplements to replenish the iron stores in the body. Anemia due to autoimmune diseases can be treated by first controlling the body’s self attack by giving immunosuppressant followed by supplements. Anemia due to chronic diseases is resolved by giving erythropoietin, a hormone that stimulates red blood cell production.
But supplements alone do not help in improving one’s anemia. One should be very conscious of increasing iron and vitamin B12 rich foods in diet. Dietary sources of iron and vitamin B12 rich foods include fish, green leafy vegetables, egg yolk, nuts and seeds, beans, legumes and pulses. Taken along with Vitamin C, these foods provide great nutrition to the body.
So do not ignore your symptoms, and talk to your clinician today.