Anaemia occurs when your blood does not have enough red blood cells.
This can happen if the body does not make enough red blood cells, bleeding, which causes loss of red blood cells more quickly than they can be replaced or the body destroys red blood cells.
The body makes three types of blood cells- white blood cells to fight infection, platelets to help your blood clot and red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body.
Red blood cells contain haemoglobin, an iron-rich protein that gives blood its red colour.
Haemoglobin enables red blood cells to carry oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body and to carry carbon dioxide from other parts of the body to the lungs so that it can be exhaled.
Most blood cells, including red blood cells, are produced regularly in your bone marrow-a spongy material found within the cavities of many of the large bones.
To produce haemoglobin and red blood cells, the body needs iron, vitamin B-12, folate and other nutrients from the foods we eat.
Causes of anaemia
Different types of anaemia and their causes include:
. Iron deficiency anaemia: This is the most common type of anaemia worldwide.
Iron deficiency anaemia is caused by a shortage of iron in the body. Your bone marrow needs iron to make haemoglobin.
Without adequate iron, your body cannot produce enough haemoglobin for red blood cells.
Without iron supplementation, this type of anaemia occurs in many pregnant women.
It is also caused by blood loss, such as from heavy menstrual bleeding, an ulcer, cancer and regular use of some over-the-counter pain relievers, especially aspirin.
Vitamin deficiency anaemia: In addition to iron, the body needs folate and vitamin B-12 to produce enough healthy red blood cells. A diet lacking in these and other key nutrients can cause decreased red blood cell production.
Additionally, some people may consume enough B-12, but their bodies are not able to process the vitamin. This can lead to vitamin deficiency anaemia, also known as pernicious anaemia.
Anaemia of chronic disease- Certain diseases such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, Crohn’s disease and other chronic inflammatory diseases can interfere with the production of red blood cells.
Anaemia signs and symptoms vary depending on the cause of the anaemia. They may include: fatigue, weakness, pale or yellowish skin, irregular heartbeats, shortness of breath, dizziness or lightheadedness, chest pain, cold hands and feet, headache.
A diet lacking in certain vitamins- having a diet that is consistently low in iron, vitamin B-12 and folate increases your risk of anaemia.
Intestinal disorders- having an intestinal disorder that affects the absorption of nutrients in your small intestine such as Crohn’s disease and celiac disease puts you at risk of anaemia.
Menstruation: In general, women who have not experienced menopause have a greater risk of iron deficiency anaemia than do men and postmenopausal women. That’s because menstruation causes the loss of red blood cells.
Pregnancy: If you are pregnant and are not taking a multivitamin with folic acid, you are at an increased risk of anaemia.
Anaemia treatment depends on the cause.
Iron deficiency anaemia: Treatment for this form of anaemia usually involves taking iron supplements and making changes to your diet.
If the underlying cause of iron deficiency is loss of blood, other than from menstruation, the source of the bleeding must be located and stopped. This may involve surgery.
Vitamin deficiency anaemias: Treatment for folic acid and B-12 deficiency involves dietary supplements and increasing these nutrients in your diet.
If your digestive system has trouble absorbing vitamin B-12 from the food you eat, you may need vitamin B-12 shots.
At first, you may receive the shots every other day. Eventually, you’ll need shots just once a month, which may continue for life, depending on your situation.
Anaemia of chronic disease: There is no specific treatment for this type of anaemia. Doctors focus on treating the underlying disease.
If symptoms become severe, a blood transfusion or injections of synthetic erythropoietin, a hormone normally produced by the kidneys, may help stimulate red blood cell production and ease fatigue.