Health tips to prevent and treat anaemia
What do you need to bear in mind if you have anaemia?
The bodies of patients with anaemia do not receive sufficient oxygen rich blood. As a result, they have symptoms such as tiredness or weakness, as well as dizziness and headaches. If left untreated, severe or prolonged anaemia may cause injuries to the heart, brain and other organs in the body.
Anaemia is related to the blood, which has many different components, including red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and plasma, which is the liquid part of the blood. In some types of anaemia the three types of blood cell may be reduced in number.
Red blood cells:
- They are disk-shaped and look like a doughnut without the hole in the middle.
- They transport oxygen and remove carbon dioxide from the body, which is a waste product.
- They are formed in the bone marrow, the spongy tissue inside the bones.
White blood cells and platelets:
- Both are formed in the bone marrow.
- White blood cells help to combat infections.
- Platelets join together to seal small cuts or ruptures in blood vessel walls and stop bleeding.
There are three main causes of anaemia:
- Blood loss
- Lack of production of red blood cells
- Increased speed of destruction of red blood cells
These causes may come as a consequence of various illnesses, health problems or other factors. Many types of anaemia can be mild, short-lived and easy to treat. Some types of anaemia can be prevented with a healthy diet and others may be treated with nutritional supplements.
If you notice signs or symptoms of anaemia, you should see a doctor. If you are diagnosed with the illness, the treatment will depend on the cause and severity. Many types of anaemia have specific causes and characteristics:
- Iron deficiency anaemia
- Folic acid (folate) deficiency anaemia
- Pernicious anaemia
- Blood loss anaemia
- Aplastic anaemia
- Haemolytic anaemia
- Others: thalassaemia, sickle cell anaemia
The most common symptom of anaemia is tiredness (feeling of exhaustion and weakness). Patients with anaemia may find it difficult to muster up enough energy to carry out their normal activities.
Other signs and symptoms of anaemia may appear because the heart is having to work harder to pump oxygen rich blood around the body. They are:
- Difficulty breathing
- Cold hands and feet
- Chest pain
According to WHO reports, globally anaemia affects 1.62 billion people (95% CI: 1.50-1.74 billion), which corresponds to 24.8% of the population (95% CI: 22.9-26.7%).
The highest prevalence is in preschool-age children (47.4%, 95% CI: 45.7-49.1%), and the lowest prevalence is in men (12.7%, 95% CI: 8.6-16.9%). However, the population group with the greatest number of individuals affected is non-pregnant women (468.4 million, 95% CI: 446.2–490.6 million).
As anaemia does not always produce symptoms, doctors may come across it when testing for other illnesses.
Medical and family history
The doctor may ask the patient if they have any signs or symptoms of anaemia or if they have had an illness or health issues that may have caused it.
In order to give precise information to the doctor and for a quick diagnosis of the case, it is necessary to indicate the medications taken, the diet followed and if one of the patient’s relatives has anaemia or a history of the illness.
The doctor will examine the patient to determine the severity of the anaemia and investigate the possible causes. The medical examination may consist of the following steps:
- Heart examination: to see if it is beating quickly or irregularly.
- Lung examination: to see if breathing is quick or irregular.
- Abdominal examination: to see the size of the liver and spleen.
The doctor may also conduct a pelvic or rectal exam to look for common sources of blood loss
Diagnostic tests and procedures
Patients may need to undergo different blood tests and other tests or procedures to find out what type of anaemia they have and to what degree. A haemogram may therefore be requested for the patient.
Other tests and procedures
If the results of the blood test show that the patient has anaemia, other tests may need to be done, such as:
- Reticulocyte count: to determine the number of immature red blood cells (reticulocytes) in the blood. It shows if the bone marrow is producing red blood cells at the right speed.
- Tests to determine the concentrations of iron in the blood and the body: these include serum iron and serum ferritin; transferrin and total iron-binding capacity are also tests that measure iron concentrations.
- Haemoglobin electrophoresis: to asses the different types of haemoglobin in the blood. It may help to diagnose the type of anaemia and also determine a deficiency in maturation factors (vitamin B12 and folic acid).
The treatment for anaemia depends on the type, the cause and the severity of the illness. Treatments may consist of:
- Changes to diet
- Nutritional supplements
- Surgery to treat the blood loss
The aim of the treatment is to increase the amount of oxygen that the blood may carry. This increase helps to increase the number of red blood cells or the concentration of haemoglobin (the iron rich protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen to the body's cells). Another aim is to treat the source illness or cause of the anaemia.
Changes to diet and nutritional supplements:
- Vitamin B12
- Folic acid
Blood transfusion and transplantation of stem cells from the blood and bone marrow are two treatments that must be assessed in advance by the specialist doctor to determine their true need.
Repeated episodes of certain types of anaemia may be prevented, especially those that are due to an iron or vitamin deficiency. If changes are made to diet or supplements taken (as advised by the doctor) these types of anaemia may be prevented from recurring.
Treating the cause may prevent anaemia (or stop it from coming back). For example, if a medicine is causing anaemia in the patient, the doctor may prescribe them a different type of medicine.
To stop anaemia from getting worse, patients should explain all the signs and symptoms to their doctor in detail. They are also advised to asked what tests are needed and follow the treatment plan they are given.
Some types of hereditary anaemia, such as sickle cell anaemia, cannot be prevented. Patients with hereditary anaemia should consult their doctor for the continuous treatment and care they need.