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What Is Anemia?

Anemia is a condition that occurs when a person’s body doesn’t produce enough healthy red blood cells. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, anemia is the most common blood disorder, affecting more than three million Americans.

Before we delve further into the topic of anemia, it’s important to understand that our bodies make three types of blood cells:

  • Platelets that help clot blood
  • White blood cells to fight infection
  • Red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body

The latter is a key component in today’s discussion. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, which enables them to carry oxygen from your lungs to all parts of the body, and which helps carry carbon dioxide from other parts of the body to your lungs so that it can be exhaled. Someone with anemia won’t have enough of the hemoglobin-packed red blood cells to effectively perform these functions.

Now that we have some background information and a basic understanding of the interworkings of red blood cells, let’s delve into the symptoms and most common types of anemia.

The symptoms of anemia include:

  • Cold hands and feet
  • Cognitive problems
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Pale skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness

In the beginning, anemia can be so mild that it often goes unnoticed. However, as symptoms intensify, anemia, in turn, worsens.

These symptoms are often a result of a person suffering from one of the most common types of anemia:

Iron deficiency anemia – This type of anemia is caused by a shortage of iron in the body. Bone marrow requires iron in order to make hemoglobin. Without adequate amounts of iron, the body can’t produce enough hemoglobin for red blood cells. Iron deficiency anemia can be caused by blood loss or extended use of aspirin or NSAIDs.

Vitamin deficiency anemia – Our bodies require folate and vitamin B12 to create sufficient numbers of healthy red blood cells. A diet that lacks these, as well as other important nutrients, can result in a decrease in red blood cell production.

Anemia of chronic diseases – Cancer, Crohn’s disease, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic inflammatory diseases can inhibit the production of red blood cells, resulting in chronic anemia.

Hemolytic anemias – This particular group of anemias occur when red blood cells are destroyed faster than the body’s bone marrow can replace them. Hemolytic anemia can be an inherited disease, or it can develop later in a person’s life.

Sickle cell anemia – This form of anemia is commonly inherited and can sometimes be caused by a defective form of hemoglobin that forces red blood cells to adopt an abnormal crescent, otherwise known as sickle, shape. These sickle-shaped red blood cells prematurely die, which causes a continual shortage of red blood cells.

If you’d like to learn more about the symptoms and various forms of anemia, talk to your primary care physician.

Check back in the coming weeks to learn more about the treatment options for anemia.

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