Anemia affects millions around the world. In the US alone there are over 3 million people who suffer from this disease. Often characterized by low energy, tiredness and constant fatigue anemia can not only disrupt the normal functioning of a person but if ignored can also cause serious health complications. Let’s find out more about what is anemia, its various types, causes, symptoms as well as preventive measures to overcome this blood disorder.
So what exactly is anemia?
Anemia is a blood disorder which is caused due to a drastic reduction in the number of red blood cells or even a sharp drop in the hemoglobin levels. It is necessary to first understand the functions of both to gauge their importance in maintaining blood quality.
Red blood cells or RBC’s contain hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to body tissues. Lack in hemoglobin can lessen the oxygen binding ability of each hemoglobin molecule. Not having enough healthy red blood cells means that the oxygen supply to various parts of the body is hindered resulting in anemia.
Excessive blood loss, excessive cell destruction or deficiency in red blood cell production can all lead to anemia.
Are there different types of anemia?
Sure there are. In fact, there are over 100 different types of anemia. They have been further classified into groups – anemia which is inherited, anemia which results form iron deficiency, anemia caused due to inadequate production of red blood cells, anemia resulting form blood loss or even anemia resulting from blood cell destruction.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common and known types of anemia:
Sickle Cell Anemia – This one is an inherited disease. People having sickle cell anemia generally inherit two copies of sickle cell genes - one from each parent. These two copies of sickle cell gene trigger the body to produce abnormal hemoglobin. The human body produces abnormally shaped red blood cells, often in the shape of a sickle (crescent shaped). The sickle shape reduces the flexibility of the red blood cells making it difficult for them to pass through small blood vessels. Sickle shaped cells block blood vessels making smooth blood flow difficult to all parts of the body. Tissue damage is a serious effect of sickle cell disease as blood tissues do not receive normal flow of blood and in turn oxygen causing damage.
Iron deficiency Anemia – One of the most common types of anemia, Iron-deficiency anemia is caused due to low iron intake or insufficient absorption of iron in the body. Iron-deficiency causes the red blood cells to appear abnormal and unusually small (microcytic) and pale (hypochromic). Adequate quantity of iron is necessary to make hemoglobin which is an important constituent in the red blood cells, responsible for transport of oxygen. Lack in hemoglobin can lessen the oxygen binding ability of each hemoglobin molecule, resulting in anemia. Iron-deficiency anemia usually develops over time if the body doesn’t have enough iron to build healthy red blood cells.
Pernicious anemia - Pernicious anemia is caused due to Vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 is a vital nutrient required to produce healthy red blood cells and its lack can often result in this blood disorder. Pernicious anemia, also called Biermer's anemia, if not treated in its early stages can cause severe health conditions including damage to vital organs such as heart, brain and nervous system. Pernicious anemia also can cause other complications, such as memory loss and digestive tract problems.
Aplastic Anemia - Aplastic anemia is a rare but life threatening type of anemia caused when the body's bone marrow fails to produce sufficient blood cells for circulation. Aplastic anemia has many causes and can also occur for no known reason (idiopathic Aplastic anemia) or from a previous illness or disorder. People suffering from Aplastic anemia not only have low red blood cell count but they also lack in white blood cells and platelets, as bone marrow stem cells are damaged.
Blood loss anemia – Blood loss anemia or chronic bleeding often goes undetected for a long period of time and hence can prove to be more dangerous as there is loss of hemoglobin and red blood cells. Excessive blood loss is generally due to loss of blood, surgery or accidents. Stomach ulcers, Hemorrhoids, inflammation of the stomach or gastritis, cancer or childbirth may all lead to this type of anemia.
Hemolytic or red blood cell destruction anemia - Red blood cell destruction anemia or Hemolytic anemia causes the red blood cells to die early, (generally they live for 110-120 days) which are removed through the spleen. To compensate for this loss, the bone marrow produces more red blood cells than normal, and if the bone marrow cannot keep up with the red blood cell production, it may lead to hemolysis. Hemolytic anemia can also be caused due to immune reactions, infections as well as some medications and toxins.
Microcytic anemia - Microcytic anemia is detected when the red blood cells are smaller than normal and is generally caused due to iron deficiencies. Another major cause is Thalassemia (inherited disorders of hemoglobin).
Normocytic anemia - Normocytic anemia , is detected when the red blood cells size are normal in size but low in number, This type of anemia is often related to some chronic diseases or even kidney diseases.
Macrocytic anemia - Macrocytic anemia is a type where in the red blood cells are larger than normal. Alcoholism and pernicious anemia are some of the main causes.
What causes anemia?
Being anemic means that the body produces lesser healthy red blood cells, loses too many of them or destroys them faster than they can be replaced. But what can cause such conditions? Let’s take a look at some of the known and most common causes of anemia.
Insufficient absorption or inadequate intake of iron - Shortage of iron is one of the common causes of anemia. Our bone marrow requires iron to make hemoglobin which in turn is necessary for healthy red blood cell stimulation.
- Vitamin B12 or Folate deficiency – Vitamins are crucial nutrients required for healthy red blood cell production. Deficiency can cause anemia as well as other health complications.
- Red blood cell destruction - Red blood cells destruction due to certain autoimmune disorders as well as antibiotics can cause anemia. Auto immune diseases produce anti-bodies that can destroy healthy red blood cells.
- Defective hemoglobin - low hemoglobin levels as well as defective hemoglobin causes the red blood cells to take on abnormal shapes causing anemia as well as thalassemia.
- Life threatening diseases - Leukemia as well as myelodysplasia affect blood production in the bone marrow and can cause anemia. In addition, Rheumatoid arthritis, HIV/AIDS, Crohn’s disease as well as kidney failure also interfere with red blood cell production causing anemia.
What are the symptoms?
Oh there are many symptoms that can signal anemia, you just need to be alert to signs that our body sends out. But generally a mild case is difficult to detect. In cases of severe anemia, initially the body may adapt and compensate for the change, displaying fewer symptoms until the anemia becomes more severe.
Some common symptoms include
- lack of physical energy
- shortness of breath
In cases of severe anemia, the symptoms may include
- rapid heart rate
- low blood pressure
- change in stool color
- pale or cold skin
- heart murmurs
- enlargement of the spleen etc.
How can I protect myself against anemia?
Well, just follow some basic health tips, eat your veggies and fruits, don’t be lazy and exercise daily, don’t smoke or drink alcohol, keep your caffeine intake to a minimum and most importantly keep cool.
- Iron & folate rich diet - Eat plenty of fresh vegetables such as lentils, beans, leafy vegetables and fruits such as bananas and citrus juices. . They are a good sources of iron and folate essential for healthy red blood cell production.
- Regular exercise - Daily exercise keeps the blood flow and circulation smooth helping red blood cell production.
- Moderate lifestyle - Smoking, alcohol and drugs can play havoc with your body. They can have a negative effect on blood cell production. It is also advisable to keep your caffeine intake to a minimum.
- Stay away from stress – Keeping calm is great for the overall health. Stress can not only affect blood circulation and production it can also lead to severe health conditions.
It is important to be alert to the signals that our body sends. If you are constantly suffering form fatigue or feeling tired for no reason maybe its time to go consult your doctor. A check up won’t hurt. If the results are normal, hey that’s great news but if there are any other indications of oncoming anemia then you can catch it at its earliest and take precautions accordingly.
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