Red blood cells (RBCs), white blood cells (WBCs) and platelets are the three types of blood cells which are present in our body. Majority of these cells are produced in the bone marrow which is found in the center region of your larger bones. Blood cells play an essential role in the functioning of our body. WBCs help us by fighting all the infections in our body; platelets are useful for blood clotting and RBCs transports oxygen throughout the body.
It’s the hemoglobin (iron-rich protein) which is the most important part of red blood cells. They assist RBCs to carry the oxygen from lungs and transport it to different parts of the body. Our body requires iron, vitamin B-12, folate and other nutrients from the diet we consume to produce the RBCs and hemoglobin.
Then, what is Anemia?
It is the most common blood-related condition and it affects millions of people around the world. Anemia occurs due to a decrease in the total number of RBCs or hemoglobin in the body or because of the inefficiency of RBCs to carry and transport oxygen. So our cell does not get a sufficient amount of oxygen. It can lead to fatigue (tiredness), headache, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, dizziness and other symptoms.
Anemia can happen, if your body does not make sufficient RBCs; in case of excessive bleeding; or destruction of RBCs due to any health condition and infections. It is commonly observed during pregnancy, older individuals, children, women and individuals suffering from an autoimmune disease. Poor dietary choices are another important factor which can lead to anemia.
Different Types of Anemia
There are more than 400 types of anemia present which can affect any individuals. The most common and important types of anemia are-
- Iron Deficiency Anemia
- Vitamin Deficiency Anemia (Vitamin B 12 and folic acid)
- Aplastic Anemia
- Hemolytic Anemia
- Anemia caused due to chronic diseases (cancer, HIV/AIDS, kidney disease, etc.)
Iron Deficiency Anemia
It has been estimated that 30-50% of anemia in children is due to iron deficiency – World Health Organization
It is the most common type of anemia affecting humans worldwide. As the name suggests, this type of anemia is caused due to an insufficient amount of iron in the body which cannot support the formation of red blood cells.
Blood loss due to hemorrhage or menstruation, pregnancy and malaria are the major causes of iron deficiency anemia. Likewise, it can also be due to blood donation, hookworm infection and iron deficient diet.
Signs and Symptoms
Its signs and symptoms are caused due to decreased oxygen transportation to the body. Brittle nails, pale skin, chest pain, headache, dizziness, cold hands/feet, fatigue and weakness are the common signs and symptoms. Additionally, it may also result in an irregular or rapid heartbeat, concentrating problems, cravings of ice/dirt/starch and restless leg syndrome.
If left untreated, iron deficiency anemia can have serious outcomes and may be life-threatening. It may lead to depression, increased risk of infections and heart problems (arrhythmias, enlarged heart and heart failure). In the case of pregnancy, it can cause preterm delivery or low birth weight in newborns.
Depending upon the findings, your doctor may recommend improved diet, iron supplements and other strategies to increase the iron stores.
Iron-rich foods are eggs, lean red meat, chicken, turkey, duck, salmon, dried fruits, dried beans, cereals, and peas. Iron-enriched bread or pasta, tofu and, green leafy vegetables like broccoli, kale, turnip greens and collards are also great sources of iron. A doctor may ask you to consume vitamin C rich foods as it increases the body’s ability to absorb iron. Oranges, strawberries and tomatoes are some great sources of vitamin C. You should avoid drinking black tea during iron deficiency anemia as it decreases the iron absorption rate.
Along with diet, the doctor may prescribe iron supplements at a limited dosage as in excess it can damage your organs. It is one of the most common options for treating iron deficiency anemia.
Vitamin Deficiency Anemia
It can occur when there are low red blood cells in your body mainly due to the inadequate levels of folate, vitamin B-12 or vitamin C. Vitamin deficiency anemia can also occur if your body has a problem processing these vitamins despite having it in sufficient amounts. The risk is higher in older adults and during pregnancy when there is a high demand for vitamins.
Folate deficiency anemia may be due to the consumption of diet lacking folate. It can be observed even when your body can’t absorb folate from food due to celiac disease or surgery wherein, a large part of small intestines is removed. Certain medicines and excessive alcohol intake can also be the probable cause as they may interfere with the absorption of folate. Pregnant women and breastfeeding women are also prone to develop folate deficiency due to its increased demand.
Vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia can again occur due to the regular consumption of diet which lacks this vitamin. Insufficiency of absorbing this nutrient by our small intestine can also be another cause. This may be due to surgery of your stomach or small intestine (gastric bypass surgery) and certain diseases like Crohn’s or celiac. Its most common cause is the lack of intrinsic factor which is a protein which helps in the absorption of vitamin B-12. Anemia caused due to lack of intrinsic factor is termed as pernicious anemia.
Vitamin C deficiency anemia can occur due to food lacking vitamin C or due to your body’s inability to absorb vitamin C from the food. Smoking affects the vitamin C absorption in your body.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of anemia like fatigue (tiredness), shortness of breath, dizziness, irregular heartbeat and weight loss are common. Reduced sense of taste, diarrhea, muscle weakness, depression, numbness in hands and feet can be observed. Other symptoms such as pale skin, sore tongue, mouth ulcers, irritation, depression, vision problems, difficulty in thinking and memory problems are also seen in vitamin B-12 deficiency.
If ignored, it can be serious and may lead to infertility, stomach cancer, heart diseases and scurvy in which bleeding occurs under the skin or gums. It may result in childbirth problems and neural tube defects in newborn babies.
Your doctor may recommend diet and supplements to achieve the desired level of these vitamins in the body. Nuts, enriched grain products (bread, pasta, cereal), green leafy vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, asparagus or peas and brown rice are good sources of folate. Eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, red and white meat are rich in vitamin B-12. Vitamin C rich food includes citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes and sweet peppers.
Changing some lifestyle habits like quitting cigarettes or limiting the consumption of alcohol can also improve the condition.
It is a rare but serious health condition. Though, it can affect people of all ages but is most commonly observed in individuals belonging to 10-20 or 60-65 year age groups. In this, stem cell present in bone marrow responsible for making blood cells (RBCs, WBCs and platelets) are damaged. As all these cells have average lifespan after which they die so our body requires its constant production by bone marrow. If not fulfilled, then various health problems occur.
Aplastic anemia can be of two types i.e. acquired aplastic anemia (more common) and inherited aplastic anemia which is rare. Acquired means that a person is not born with it but develops it later and the cause is unknown in most cases. While inherited aplastic anemia means that you received a gene causing this condition from your parents. The most common examples of inherited aplastic anemia are Fanconi anemia, Shwachman-Diamond Syndrome and Diamond-Blackfan anemia.
Toxic substances/chemicals, exposure to certain medicines, radiation therapy/chemotherapy for cancer and pregnancy are the major cause of aplastic anemia. It can also be due to infections like hepatitis, HIV or others, autoimmune disorders and inherited conditions.
Signs and Symptoms
Weakness, tiredness, shortness of breath, light-headedness, palpitations, vision problems, nosebleeds, infections and small bruises in the skin can be observed. Furthermore, dizziness, headaches, cold hands/feet, pale skin, heart diseases, blood in stool and red spots on the skin can occur. Nausea and skin rashes can also be seen in some cases. It can be a life-threatening condition if it is left untreated with a very high mortality rate.
Aplastic anemia can be treated by blood transfusion, blood and bone marrow stem cell transplant, and medicines depending upon its severity. Among all, stem cell transplant works best in children or young adults. These treatment options can help the affected individuals by preventing the complications and relieving the symptoms.
It can affect humans of both the sexes from all age groups and races. Hemolytic anemia can be chronic and life-threatening. Generally, the average lifespan of red blood cells is about 120 days but in this condition, it gets destroyed earlier. This demands more production of RBCs by the bone marrow to meet the body requirement. When bone marrow fails to fulfill the demand of excessive red blood cells, it can lead to several health conditions.
Similar to aplastic anemia, it can also be acquired and inherited. Immune hemolytic anemia, mechanical hemolytic anemia and paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria are the different types of acquired hemolytic anemia. In immune hemolytic anemia, our own immune system destroys the RBCs, while in the case of mechanical hemolytic anemia; RBCs are affected due to physical damage. Sickle cell anemia and thalassemias are the common types of inherited hemolytic anemia.
Most common causes of hemolytic anemia are infections, autoimmune condition and genetic defects within the red blood cells. Exposure to chemicals, toxins or medicines and a blood transfusion from an unmatched donor can also lead to hemolytic anemia.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of hemolytic anemia can vary from person to person due to the multitude of causes. Some common symptoms are weakness, dizziness, confusion, concentrating problems, headache, pale skin, yellow skin or eyes (jaundice) and dark-colored urine. Moreover, enlarged spleen or liver, increased heartbeat and heart murmur can also be noticed.
Individuals suffering from mild hemolytic anemia don’t require any treatment if it is not getting worse. However, severe cases require proper treatment. Treatment can depend on the type and cause of the hemolytic anemia. Blood transfusion can be done in emergency cases. Medicines, supplements, surgery to remove the spleen, blood and bone marrow stem cell transplants, and lifestyle changes can also be used.
The 2 Most Common Myths of Anemia
- Anemia is a result of an iron deficiency or if you are iron deficient then you have anemia
Fact: It is true that iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia but both of them are not always linked together. There are several other types of anemia which can cause due to a multitude of reasons.
- Anemia only affects children and women
Fact: No! Many types of anemia may affect children and women more but this doesn’t mean that men will be unaffected. Anemia can affect people from both the sex including all age groups and races.
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