Anemia Everything You Need to Know: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
Updated: Oct 18, 2021
Anemia is a medical condition in which the number of erythrocytes (red blood cells) decreases. Erythrocytes are responsible for transporting oxygen throughout the body through hemoglobin, when their levels are low the oxygenation of the whole body is compromised.
Hemoglobin is the most commonly used indicator to quantify the degree of anemia, depending on how decreased the anemia could be mild, moderate, or severe. However, the onset and intensity of symptoms may vary in each person depending on the cause of anemia. (1)
Anemia is common, approximately 5.6% of Americans suffer from anemia and 1.5% of them meet the criteria of moderate or severe anemia, the most affected are women, the elderly, and the chronically ill. It is often diagnosed in occasional routine exams and other times anemia presents as the only symptom of serious diseases such as cancer. (2)
Most Common Causes of Anemia You Should Know
1. Iron deficiency (Iron deficiency anemia): Occurs when there is a deficient intake or absorption of iron. It can occur in people with iron deficiency in the diet, such as vegetarians or people with intestinal malabsorption syndrome or gastrointestinal surgeries.
2. Folic acid deficiency (Megaloblastic anemia): Occurs due to vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiency, this affects the formation of red blood cells, usually occurs in people with nutritional deficiencies such as people in a state of malnutrition or conditions such as intestinal malabsorption syndrome.
3. Bleeding: Occurs from acute or chronic blood loss, visible or not. The causes are very varied, from acute bleeding from an accident to very heavy periods or stomach ulcers. In these cases, the essential thing is to locate the source of the bleeding to stop it and then replace the lost blood if the person warrants it, or use iron supplements to raise the hemoglobin figures.
4. Infectious or tumoral: When there is an infectious or tumoral process the organism enters an inflammatory state, this decreases the use of iron and therefore decreases the formation of red blood cells, in this case, the initial disease must be treated to improve anemia.
5. Hemolysis (Hemolytic Anemia): It is caused by birth defects or immune disorders that affect the functioning of certain cells, and enzymes, this produces hemolysis of blood cells (hemolysis) and therefore causes a decrease in circulating red blood cells.
6. Kidney disorders: In the kidneys, a hormone is produced (erythropoietin) it is responsible for stimulating the production of red blood cells, when there are kidney diseases the action of this hormone is affected and therefore decreases the formation of erythrocytes.
What Are the Symptoms of Anemia?
When the oxygen supply of the tissues is compromised there are direct and visible consequences that will be expressed in a series of symptoms that will vary according to the degree of anemia and the level of tolerance of each person, very specific symptoms may also occur not necessarily due to anemia, but associated with the disease that triggered anemia. (3)
· Marked paleness at the level of the skin and mucous membranes, is usually one of the most frequent signs of anemia.
· Tiredness, when the oxygen supply is insufficient the brain restricts energy for vital functions, therefore, it is usual to feel constantly tired and without energy.
· Dizziness and fainting usually occur when the person is standing, due to the restriction i in the supply of oxygen, subsequently, there is a rapid recovery of consciousness.
· Cold intolerance
· Loss of hair and brittle nails
· Chest pain and palpitations
· Difficulty concentrating
How is anemia diagnosed?
To diagnose anemia, it is necessary to examine all personal and family history and a thorough review of all symptoms that are manifesting at the time of the consultation, then a physical examination is performed, where it is common to find:
· Altered heart rate
· Variations in blood pressure
· Cold skin
From there the doctor will indicate laboratory tests:
Blood count: From a blood sample it is possible to determine the number of red and white blood cells, platelet count, and hemoglobin levels, if hemoglobin is low and there is a decrease in the number of red blood cells is indicative of anemia.
Blood smears: In this test, you can obtain information about the morphology of red blood cells and can guide you to the cause that causes anemia.
Other lab tests will then be requested to identify the cause of the anemia:
· Serum Iron and Ferritin: To rule out whether it is iron deficiency anemia or not
· Vitamin B12 and folic acid levels
· Total and fractionated bilirubin
· Fecal occult blood
Treatment varies according to the cause of anemia; however, it is important to consider that one of the most common anemias is iron deficiency anemia, this represents up to 50% of all cases of anemia worldwide, and to a large extent can be treated and prevented from a good diet. (4)
To understand anemias due to nutritional deficiencies it is necessary to know the daily requirements of these nutrients in adults:
· Vitamin B12: 2.5μg
· Vitamin C: 80mg
· Iron: 14mg
· Folic acid: 200μg
Diet and Anemia
A balanced diet that guarantees the consumption of foods rich in vitamins and minerals can substantially improve the symptoms of anemia, for this these foods must be consumed daily:
Foods’ high in Iron
Spinach Red beef or calf Soy Pistachios
Broccoli Beef or Chicken Liver Peas Nuts
Kale Tuna Hazelnut Beans
Chard Salmon Oatmeal
Folic acid is synthesized in the body; however, some foods are rich in folic acid and help increase its concentration. Many foods with good iron levels are also a good source of folic acid.
· Beef liver
· Beef liver
· Dairy products
Vitamin C, beta-carotene favor iron absorption while coffee and foods with high calcium levels can decrease their absorption. To ensure the consumption of all these foods can be made some of the following combinations:
Breakfast: Green smoothies based on spinach, chard, and pineapple.
Snack: A portion of kiwi, pineapple, and nuts.
Lunch: Steamed salmon, chard salad with broccoli and carrot
Dinner: Tuna omelet with vegetables
The Best Supplements to Beat Anemia
Many times, the diet is not enough or you want a safe and constant supply of iron, in these cases, some supplements are designed to provide daily requirements, here are some of the best.
1. SlowFe® tablets: It has 45mg of iron per tablet.
2. Feosol® Iron Bifera®: They are capsules that provide 28mg of iron and also do not require vitamin C for absorption and produce less stomach discomfort.
3. IRON Gummies BeLive®: They provide up to 56% of the daily iron requirements, in addition to other nutrients such as Vitamin C, folate, and vitamin B12. They are an excellent choice for those who are not very friendly with capsules and tablets and are suitable for adults and children.
Helcio Ferreira is an MD in Biomedicine and Nutrtion. She is a writer of Nutrition and Health. You can find some of her work on Fiverr.com.