Explaining Anaemia

Peripheral blood smear microscopy of a patient with iron-deficiency anemia.

Anemia is a condition that many do not know about. Because of this, and because the symptoms are subtle, it can go undetected for years.

Studies are showing that anaemia can seriously compromise the quality of one’s life, so it’s best you know how to minimise or prevent it.

What Is Anaemia

Anaemia is a blood disorder caused by the lack of haemoglobin in your body. Iron is required to make haemoglobin, which helps transport oxygen around your body.

A shortage of iron is the most common cause of anaemia worldwide, known as iron-deficiency anaemia. It also be caused by blood loss, either sudden (when a stomach ulcer erupts) — or over time, such as when a woman experiences a heavy menstrual flow. Poor dietary habits can bring it on too.

Other causes include :

* Underlying conditions or chronic diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and kidney failure.

* Lack of vitamins B12 and folic acid, which are also needed to make properly functioning red blood cells.

* Damaged bone marrow (where the red blood cells are made), which leads to a shortage of good red blood cells. This is a rare and deadly form of anaemia called aplastic anaemia.

* When red blood cells are destroyed by the body too quickly, haemolytic anaemia results. This is often the result of an inherited condition, such as sickle cell anaemia.

Those At Risk

Some have a higher risk of developing the disease due to their makeup, lifestyle or dietary habits. These include:

* Teenage girls and women who have heavy periods.

* Pregnant women. A woman’s blood volume expands by almost 50% when she is with child. Her body is now trying to make up for the increased need by producing more red blood cells, leading to depleted iron supplies. At least 20% of all pregnant women are affected.

* Those who have undergone an operation and suffered extreme blood loss.

* Athletes. In their race for high energy levels, athletes tend to consume more carbohydrate-rich foods, leaving out foods packed with iron.

When a Medical Diagnosis is Needed

You should see a doctor when any of the following symptoms show up : lethargy, weakness, feeling faint and dizziness. Severe symptoms of anaemia include palpitations, shortness of breath, sore mouth and gums, headaches, a pale pallor and brittle nails.

Treating Anaemia

Once you find out the cause, then you can determine the treatment. If you are confirmed anaemic due to iron deficiency, you need a diet filled with iron-rich foods.

Iron is found in meat, liver, cereals, raw green vegetables and fortified foods. It is advisable to eat foods containing vitamin C together with non-meat sources of iron because this boosts iron absorption. Good sources of vitamin C include peppers, brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, oranges and kiwi fruit.

Importance of Iron Supplements

If diet alone fails to meet your needs, ask your doctor about iron supplements. Sometimes it’s advisable to turn to iron supplementation to quicken the process. Your doctor will advise how much you should take, and monitor your progress accordingly.

More info on ANAEMIA here.

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