More than one-third of all women of productive age and children below the age of 5 years are known to suffer from anemia (As per the data by World Health Organisation). Anemia is a disease in which the number of red blood cells and the concentration of hemoglobin is reduced. There may also be a presence of abnormal hemoglobin. Red blood cells (RBCs) are specialized cells that are present in our blood and they contain a protein known as hemoglobin. This hemoglobin present in the RBCs attaches to the oxygen in the lungs. Thus, the blood supplies this oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body. Any reduction in the number of RBCs or hemoglobin and abnormality in hemoglobin results in a decreased oxygen-carrying capacity and subsequently decreases the oxygen supply to various vital body tissues.
Types of anemia
Based on the underlying cause the anemia can be divided into the following types:
Vitamin deficiency Anemia: It is caused due to a deficiency of vitamin B12 and folate in your body. These vitamins are an essential component of RBCs and any deficiency in these vitamins leads to this type of anemia. In addition to the general anemia symptoms, soreness of the tongue & mouth and the color changes in nails, skin or hair are other signs observed in this type.
Iron deficiency anemia: This is the most common type of anemia. As per the World Health Organization report (2007), 50 % of all types of anemia are known to be iron deficiency anemia. It is caused due to a deficiency of iron in the body. This deficiency of iron can occur due to the reduction in the amount of iron in your diet, or increased absorption of iron as seen in specific health conditions including a previous bypass surgery or inflammatory bowel disease. Additionally, it is also seen when there is a heavy blood loss.
Anemia of chronic disease: These are the types of anemia that are known to be associated with chronic diseases. Some of the common chronic conditions that may lead to this anemia include:
Chronic kidney disease
Infections like HIV or tuberculosis
Hemolytic anemia: On average RBCs produced by the bone marrow has a life of 100 – 120 days after which it is destroyed. So, there is a balance in the production and destruction of RBCs. Sometimes this destruction of RBCs occurs at a faster rate resulting in a decreased number of red cells in the circulation leading to this anemia.
Idiopathic aplastic anemia: This is a clinical condition in which there is a defect in the production of red blood cells by the bone marrow. This may occur as a complication of chemotherapy or radiation. In addition, it is also seen in some autoimmune conditions
Megaloblastic anemia: It is a specific type of anemia in which the bone marrow produces immature and structurally abnormal and large size RBCs that are not able to effectively carry the oxygen.
Sickle cell anemia: It is a genetic disorder that is known to pass through generations. The RBCs present are abnormal and sickle in shape that breaks down easily which causes a decreased number of RBCs in the blood.
Thalassemia: These are also specific types of blood disorders that are inherited. It is characterized by a decreased amount of hemoglobin and red blood cells.
The most common symptoms associated with anemia are those that are due to the lack of oxygen supply to the vital body tissue. These symptoms include
Shortness of breath
pale skin, gums, or nails
Cold hands and feet
Rapid or irregular pulse
How to diagnose anemia?
The initial diagnosis of anemia is determined with the help of your medical history, signs, symptoms, and physical examination. Family history is also important which helps in the diagnosis of sickle cell anemia and thalassemia. Once the initial diagnosis is established your doctor may advise additional tests to confirm the diagnosis. These include:
Complete blood count (CBC): The CBC blood test determines your hemoglobin levels as well as the quantity and size of red blood cells in your body.
Reticulocyte count: It helps your doctor determine if your bone marrow is producing enough new red blood cells.
Serum iron levels: This is used to check the level of iron in the body and is used to detect iron deficiency as the cause of anemia.
Vitamin B12 and folic acid test: It measures your vitamin B12 and folate levels and helps your doctor determine if these levels are too low.
Coombs test: This test is used to look for the presence of autoantibodies that are targeting and destroying your red blood cells.
Bone marrow tests: A bone marrow aspirate or biopsy can be used to determine if your bone marrow is healthy.
Anemia treatment: The right cure for the right type
The treatment of anemia depends on the type of anemia and the underlying cause of it. Some of the common treatment plans advised by the physician are:
Management of underlying disease: There are types of anemia caused by underlying illnesses. Treatment for these chronic conditions will have a positive effect on managing anemia as well
Dietary and nutritional supplements: Anemia caused due to a lack of iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid can be effectively managed by advising the nutritional supplements. Your physician and nutritionist may work together to put you on a specific diet that is rich in these vitamins and minerals.
Drug therapy: Your physician may prescribe you erythropoietin to boost the RBC production in the bone marrow. Also, corticosteroids and other agents are advised by the physician to suppress the immune response of the body.
Blood Transfusion: In severe cases, your consulting physician may advise a blood transfusion.
Anemia can have serious complications if left untreated. Therefore, if you are experiencing symptoms of anemia, consult a healthcare professional. Your doctor will be able to give you a proper diagnosis, determine the cause, and advise the best treatment plan suited for you.