Anemia is an often overlooked but potentially serious medical condition that affects people of all ages across the globe. Anemia occurs when an individual’s red blood cells (RBCs) or hemoglobin levels fall below an acceptable range, resulting in an insufficient oxygen delivery to the body’s tissues and organs. The condition can lead to a variety of symptoms, including fatigue, shortness of breath, paleness, and dizziness.
Anemia is classified into three distinct types: iron-deficiency anemia, vitamin-deficiency anemia and anemia of chronic disease. Iron-deficiency anemia is caused by an insufficient intake or absorption of iron from the foods you eat, leading to an inadequate production of red blood cells. Vitamin-deficiency anemias are caused by a lack of certain vitamins, such as folate and B12, which are crucial to the formation and function of red blood cells. Anemia of chronic disease is often a consequence of other medical conditions such as cancer, kidney failure, or autoimmune diseases, which cause inflammation throughout the body.
Common symptoms associated with anemia include fatigue, shortness of breath on exertion, pale skin or eyes, lightheadedness or dizziness upon standing up quickly, and rapid heartbeat. Less common symptoms can include chest pain; headaches; pica, i.e. cravings for non-nutritive substances such as paper, ice, or dirt; brittle nails; a sore tongue; difficulty concentrating; memory issues; depression; cold hands or feet and ringing in the ears (tinnitus). It is important to note, however, that many people experience no symptoms at all despite being anemic.
Focus on Females
Women are at an increased risk of developing anemia due to the physiological changes that occur during pregnancy and menstruation. During pregnancy, an increase in blood volume is required to meet the demands of the developing fetus, which can create an iron deficiency if dietary intake of iron does not match the body’s needs. Some women experience heavy menstrual cycles, which can lead to an increased loss of red blood cells and inadequate nourishment, leading to anemia. Therefore, it’s important for all women, especially those who are pregnant or menstruating, to pay close attention to their diet and lifestyle habits in order to prevent anemia.
Women should focus on eating a balanced diet emphasizing iron-rich foods like legumes, dark-green vegetables, nuts, and red meat in order to prevent an iron deficiency. Supplementing with an appropriate dose of iron (as advised by a medical professional, of course) is a good idea for those at higher risk of developing anemia.
What You Can Do
The optimal treatment for anemia depends on its underlying cause. Iron-deficiency anemias are often treated with supplemental iron taken by mouth in the form of tablets or capsules, or injections – in those cases where oral supplementation is not effective enough. Vitamin deficiencies may also require supplements as well as adjusting one’s diet to ensure adequate consumption of essential micronutrients from foods such as dark leafy greens. Naturally, treating any underlying medical condition that causes an anemic state should be done before any other steps are taken towards recovery.
It is important for you to be aware of your own risk factors for developing anemia, such as age (older adults face a higher risk than younger people), lifestyle habits (smoking has been linked to a higher risk of anemia), dietary choices (if one does not consume enough iron-rich foods) and family history (genetics can also play a role).
If you are experiencing symptoms associated with anemia, seek medical care immediately, as anemia is likely to get worse if left untreated — even leading to death in extreme cases. Seeking treatment early can make all the difference in achieving a successful recovery from anemia.