Anemia is a shortage of red blood cells in the blood. It is also possible that the red blood cells do not work properly, because they contain not enough hemoglobin. In both cases, less oxygen can be transported. This allows the tissues and organs to function insufficiently and a person can get various symptoms.
Red blood cells contain hemoglobin. The hemoglobin absorbs oxygen in the lungs and transports it through the blood circulation to the tissues and organs. This provides the whole body with enough oxygen. Iron is neccesary for the construction of hemoglobin. If a person has a shortage of iron, he or she cannot produce hemoglobin. This results in anemia. One can get an iron shortage as a result of extreme blood loss (due to injury, surgery, childbirth or heavy menstruation) or poor diet. An iron shortage also occurs when the body cannot absorb iron from food.
Other causes of anemia are:
- Vitamin B9 (folic acid) shortage.
- Vitamin B12 shortage.
- A chronic disease, infection or inflammation.
- A hereditary defect.
The following signs and symptoms may occur in case of anemia:
- A tired and weak feeling.
- Rapidly becoming short of breath during exertion.
- Feel like fainting.
- Pallor (in case of severe anemia).
The diagnosis of anemia can be made on the basis of the story of the patient and by blood tests. A blood test can fairly easily determine whether or not a person has hemoglobin shortage. When it turns out to be too low, the doctor will order additional investigation to identify the cause of the anemia. Several additional examinations can be done.
The treatment of anemia depends on the cause:
- When an iron shortage occurs and proper nutrition does not suffice, the patient receives iron tablets or drink. These iron supplements, however, can cause stomach upset, constipation and black stools.
- When excessive blood loss occurs during menstruation and other causes are excluded, then it may be wise to use the contraceptive pill. This can reduce the blood loss.
- If anemia occurs because the body cannot absorb vitamin B12 from the food, the patient receives injections of this vitamin.
- In case of severe anemia, it may be decided to do a blood transfusion, in which the patient receives extra red blood cells from a donor.
The most common forms of anemia, such as iron or vitamin shortage, are treatable and recovery will usually take no longer than six months. However, the prognosis is dependent on the underlying cause of the anemia, the severity and the general health of the patient.
- A healthy and varied diet, rich in iron, helps to prevent or reduce an iron shortage. The following foods are high in iron: wholegrain cereal products, legumes, broccoli, endive, courgette, peas, apple syrup, meat, egg and nuts. Furthermore, there are many foods that are enriched with iron. Think of, for example, cereal, lemonade syrups and inbetween biscuits.
- Apart from iron, it's also important to take enough vitamin B9 and B12. Vitamin B9 is found in liver, asparagus, spinach, legumes and wholegrain products. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products, such as meat, fish and dairy products.
- The term ‘anemia’ is derived from the Latin word anaemia and the Greek word anaimía (bloodlessness). The term ‘hemoglobin’ is derived from the Greek word haima (blood); globin is a protein-like substance.
- The prevalence of anemia is 25%.
- Anemia is most common in children, (pregnant) women and the elderly.