Updated: January 2, 2018
Anemia is a medical condition in which the red blood cell count or hemoglobin is less than normal. Anemia is usually defined as hemoglobin level of less than 13.5 gram/100 ml in men and less than 12.0 gram/100 ml in women.
Usually anemia can be detected by a complete blood cell (CBC) count. CBC analysis is performed by a physician or a laboratory technician by viewing a glass slide prepared from a blood sample under a microscope.
A CBC test consist of:
The red blood cell (RBC) count, the hematocrit, and the hemoglobin are relevant to the diagnosis of anemia. The average volume of red blood cells in a blood sample can be measured by mean corpuscular volume (MCV). This is useful in distinguishing the causes of anemia. The size, shape, and color of red blood cells are also useful clues to detect the causes of anemia that are reported in a CBC.
The underlying cause of the anemia needs to be identified and corrected for the treatment of anemia. For example, anemia as a result of blood loss from a stomach ulcer should begin with medications to heal the ulcer. Likewise, a colon cancer that is causing chronic blood loss and anemia requires surgery to remove it. For iron deficiency, iron can be taken. Blood transfusions may be necessary in severe anemia. Vitamin B12 injections will be necessary for patients suffering from pernicious anemia or other causes of B12 deficiency. Epoetin alfa may be used to stimulate bone marrow red blood cell production in certain patients with bone marrow disease or bone marrow damage from chemotherapy or patients with kidney failure. If a medication is the cause of anemia, then it should be discontinued after consultation of the prescribing doctor.
The risk factor associated with anemia are:
Having a diet that is consistently low in iron, vitamin B-12 and folate increases your risk of anemia.
Having an intestinal disorder that affects the absorption of nutrients in your small intestine such as Crohn's disease and celiac disease will put you at risk of anemia.
You are at an increased risk of anemia if you are pregnant and are not taking a multivitamin with folic acid.
Because menstruation causes the loss of red blood cells, women who have not experienced menopause have a greater risk of iron deficiency anemia than do men and postmenopausal women.
If you have cancer, kidney failure or another chronic condition, you may be at risk of anemia of chronic disease. These conditions can lead to reduction of red blood cells.
Chronic blood loss from an ulcer or other source within your body can reduce your stored iron from your body, leading to iron deficiency anemia.
If your family has a history of an inherited anemia, such as sickle cell anemia, you also may be at increased risk of the condition.
People over age 65 are at increased risk of anemia.
A history of certain infections, blood diseases and autoimmune disorders, alcoholism, exposure to toxic chemicals, and the use of some medications can affect red blood cell production and lead to anemia.
Anemia can cause many health problems if left untreated. This include:
Pregnant women with folate deficiency anemia may be more likely to experience complications, such as premature birth.
When anemia is severe enough, you may be so tired that you will not be able to do your everyday works.
Anemia can lead to a rapid or irregular heartbeat called arrhythmia. When you are anemic your heart must pump more blood to compensate for the lack of oxygen in the blood. This can lead to an enlarged heart or heart failure.
Some inherited anemia, such as sickle cell anemia, can be serious and lead to life-threatening complications. Losing a lot of blood quickly results in acute, severe anemia and can be fatal.
All types of anemia can not be prevented. But iron deficiency anemia and vitamin deficiency anemia can be avoided by having a diet that includes a variety of vitamins and nutrients, including iron, folate, vitamin B-12 and vitamin C.
Iron-rich foods include beef and other meats, beans, lentils, iron-fortified cereals, dark green leafy vegetables, and dried fruit. Folate and its synthetic form folic acid, can be found in fruits and fruit juices, dark green leafy vegetables, green peas, kidney beans, peanuts, and enriched grain products, such as bread, cereal, pasta and rice. Foods rich in vitamin B-12 include meat, dairy products, and fortified cereal and soy products. Foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits and juices, peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, melons and strawberries. These items help increase iron absorption.
If you are not getting enough vitamins from the food you eat, then a multivitamin may be right for you.