Anemia is a medical condition that arises from a low red blood cell (RBC) count or impaired haemoglobin production within those cells. As haemoglobin is responsible for oxygen transport to the body’s tissues, anemia can result in weakness and fatigue. The causes of anemia range from blood loss to nutrient deficiencies and treatment are determined by the type of anemia present. A Comprehensive Guide to Anemia: Uncovering its Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Effective Treatment Methods.
In mild cases, anemia may not present any noticeable symptoms. However, as the condition progresses, symptoms may manifest or become more pronounced. These symptoms may include:
• Fatigue or tiredness
• A pale appearance to the skin
• Dizziness or light-headedness
• Rapid heartbeat, known as tachycardia Shortness of breath.
• Jaundice (some types of anemia cause yellowing of the skin)
Types and Causes
Anemia is classified into three categories based on the fundamental causes of the condition: decreased production of red blood cells, blood loss, and increased destruction of red blood cells (haemolysis). The various types of anemia that arise from reduced RBC production include:
Types of anemia related to blood loss are:
• Anemia resulting from blood loss can be classified into two types: acute and chronic. Acute blood loss anemia arises from events like trauma, surgery, or acute bleeding from ulcers. On the other hand, chronic blood loss anemia may be due to heavy menstrual periods (menorrhagia), colon cancer, or inflammatory bowel disease, conditions that cause gastrointestinal tract bleeding. It is important to note that chronic blood loss can also lead to iron deficiency anemia.
• Iron deficiency anemia: Iron deficiency anemia is caused by poor iron absorption or chronic blood loss leading to depleted iron stores.
• Vitamin deficiency anemias: Vitamin deficiency anemias arise from insufficient intake of vitamin C, folate, or B-12; pernicious anemia stems from vitamin B-12 absorption issues.
• Anemia of inflammation: Anemia of inflammation is due to chronic illnesses such as leukemia, HIV, kidney disease, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
• Chemotherapy-induced anemia: Chemotherapy-induced anemia is temporary and resolves as stem cells resume red blood cell production.
• A plastic anemia: Plastic anemia occurs as a result of bone marrow failure.
Anemia related to blood loss includes two types: acute and chronic
• Acute blood loss anemia: Acute blood loss anemia is observed in instances of trauma, surgery, or acute bleeding from ulcers.
• Chronic blood loss anemia: Chronic blood loss anemia can be caused by heavy menstrual periods, gastrointestinal tract bleeding from inflammatory bowel disease or colon cancer. Additionally, it can lead to iron deficiency.
These types of anemia are a result of increased destruction of red blood cells
• Inherited anemias: These types of anemia cause alterations in haemoglobin or red blood cells, leading to fragility or shorter lifespan.
• Examples include sickle cell disease, thalassemia, G6PD deficiency, pyruvate kinase deficiency, hereditary elliptocytosis, and hereditary spherocytosis.
• Alloimmune haemolytic anemia: Anemia due to blood transfusion reaction or Incompatibility in pregnancy caused by the mother’s Rh-negativity and fetus’ Rh-positivity.
• Autoimmune haemolytic anemia: Your immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys your red blood cells, a condition known as haemolytic anemia.
• Drug-induced haemolytic anemia: Drug-induced haemolytic anemia can occur when taking certain medications, such as antibiotics, triggering an immune reaction.
• Mechanical haemolytic anemias: Physical damage to red blood cells can cause mechanical haemolytic anemia, resulting from medical devices, high blood pressure, or strenuous activity.
• paroxysmal nocturnal haemoglobinuria: Paroxysmal nocturnal haemoglobinuria causes rapid destruction of red blood cells and decreased production of all types of blood cells, often leading to blood clots in veins.
A complete blood count (CBC) is a standard blood test used to diagnose anemia. It is usually performed when someone presents with symptoms of anemia or as part of routine annual labs. The CBC measures several components of blood, including haematocrit and haemoglobin.
A decrease in these values is an indication of anemia. Your healthcare provider will interpret the CBC results to determine if you have anemia and its underlying cause. Upon diagnosing anemia, your doctor may refer you to a haematologist to investigate the underlying cause.
To differentiate one type of anemia from another, the haematologist will consider various factors, such as the size of red blood cells, their variation in size, and the concentration of haemoglobin in the cells. These details are obtained through a complete blood count (CBC) and will help determine the appropriate treatment plan.
Further blood tests may be necessary to confirm the cause of anemia. The physician may order a reticulocyte count to measure the number of young red blood cells released by the bone marrow. Additionally, a blood smear will be performed to examine the red blood cells under a microscope.
By looking at the cells’ appearance, your healthcare provider may be able to diagnose specific types of anemia.
It’s worth noting that other factors, such as medications or underlying medical conditions, can affect the results of blood tests.
Your physician will take all of these factors into account when diagnosing and treating your anemia. If you are experiencing symptoms of anemia or have concerns about your health, it’s important to speak with your doctor and undergo the necessary tests to determine the cause and appropriate treatment plan.
The treatment for anemia varies depending on the underlying cause and may include:
• Supplements like iron, folate, or vitamin B12
• Blood transfusions
• Chemotherapy (if the anemia is caused by cancer)
• Erythropoietin injections (for people with anemia caused by kidney disease)
• Steroids (for autoimmune haemolytic anemia)
• Splenectomy (surgical removal of the spleen) for some forms of haemolytic anemia.
Certain types of anemia may not save a specific cure and could persist throughout your life. In case the anemia is a result of a chronic ailment, managing the root cause can enhance your anemia.