Anaemia (commonly spelt anemia in North America), refers to the medical condition in which the body doesn’t have enough functioning red blood cells to adequately carry oxygen to all areas of the body.
An anaemic patient usually has lower than optimum levels of healthy red blood cells or haemoglobin, resulting in oxygen-starved bodily tissues.
Anaemia is the most common blood disorder in the world, and the World Health Organisation estimates that up to 2 billion people worldwide are anaemic.
Signs and symptoms of anaemia
The most common symptoms associated with anaemia are fatigue and tiredness.
Other signs and symptoms of anaemia may include:
- Dizziness or light-headedness.
- Shortness of breath.
- Irregular heart rate or heart palpitations.
- Cold extremities.
- Pale skin, sometimes yellow-tinged.
- Brittle nails.
- Chest pain.
Anaemia can be diagnosed through a full blood count.
What causes anaemia?
Anaemia is a common medical condition that is usually simple and straightforward to treat, however in more rare cases, anaemia can point to a more serious medical condition.
Some patients are more susceptible to anaemia through genetics, while gender and other demographics can also play a role. Women often experience anaemia as a result of menstruation or pregnancy, while older adults may experience anaemia as a complication of other medical conditions. Young children are also prone to anaemia. The World Health Organisation estimates that 42% of children under 5 and 40% of pregnant women worldwide are anaemic.
Deficiencies in essential vitamins and nutrients such as iron, vitamin B-12 and folate can also lead to anaemia. According to the NHS, iron deficiency is the most common cause of the condition.
Other blood conditions such as haemophilia can cause anaemia, while blood thinning medications such as Warfarin can create complications that lead to it. Common painkillers such as aspirin, due to their blood thinning capabilities, can cause anaemia through the increased likelihood of blood loss.
What treatments are available for anaemia?
Understanding the root cause of a patient’s anaemia diagnosis helps to treat the condition more promptly and effectively.
Iron supplements and transfusions are utilised when anaemia is caused by an iron deficiency, while Vitamin B-12 or folate supplements may be the right healthcare option when the condition is found to be caused by a lack of these essential components. Vitamin C has also been found to be effective in treating anaemia.
A diet rich in leafy greens, red meat, fruit, grain and lentils is the recommended diet for those suffering with anaemia to follow.
It is important to treat anaemia promptly to minimise the risk of related complications.
As the heart is pumping more in an anaemic individual to make up for a lack of oxygen, (often resulting in the common symptom of an irregular heart beat), this can lead to cardiac complications such as an enlarged heart or heart failure.
While far rarer, a diagnosis of anaemia can also point to a more serious or complex medical condition, such as stomach ulcers, bowel disease or cancer of the stomach or bowel.
What are other types of blood disorders?
Rare conditions associated with anaemia include but aren’t limited to aplastic anaemia, haemophilia and sickle cell disease, but there are many other blood disorders that continue to affect many across the world.
Malaria continues to be a prominent blood disorder, particularly in the developing world, while leukaemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma are the most common blood cancers.
There are also many other blood conditions associated with specific elements of the blood, including red blood cells, white blood cells, plasma, platelets and blood vessels.
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