Do you what is anaemia? A lot of people have heard of it but many do not know what this condition actually is. Over 1.5 billion people worldwide are anaemic and the percentage mainly includes women. Those who are suffering from a chronic condition are at greater risk of anaemia as this condition is related to the number of red blood cells in the body. When the RBC counts decrease, it affects the oxygen in the blood and due to poor oxygen delivery, people showcase symptoms.
What causes anaemia?
Our body produces red blood cells that are essential for the growth and development of the body. Anything that affects the production of red blood cells or causes the destruction of healthy cells increases the risk of anaemia. For the uninitiated, red blood cells live only 100-120 days and about 1% of the total cells die daily. This is a cycle that needs to be maintained for good health. There are several vitamins and minerals that positively impact this cycle and should be consumed through foods. These are vitamin B12, iron and folate.
Causes that affect the production of red blood cells are:
- Hypothyroidism condition
- Inadequacy of iron, folate or vitamin B12
- Poor stimulation of RBCs
Causes of increased destruction of RBCs primarily include haemorrhaging, which is a disorder that causes faster destruction of RBCs. This is caused due to several factors such as:
- Gastrointestinal lesions
- Excessive uterine bleeding
- Pregnancy and childbirth
- Accidents or surgery
- Liver cirrhosis
- Liver and spleen disorders
- Sickle cell anaemia
- Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency
In a nutshell, the major cause of anaemia is the deficiency of iron in the body. Iron affects the production and destruction of red blood cells that further leads to anaemia. Anaemia is, therefore, regarded as a nutritional deficiency.
What are the symptoms of anaemia?
Talking about the visible symptoms of anaemia, a person may experience recurrent cold and may have a pale skin complexion when he is anaemic. Besides, find below the list of visible symptoms of anaemia:
- Dizziness and lightheadedness(due to weakness)
- Weird cravings like clay and ice
- Lethargy and concentration problem
- Tongue inflammation accompanied by redness and pain
In cases of severe anaemia, the following symptoms may occur:
- Frequent fainting
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in chest
- Brittle nails
- Pale skin
- Fluctuating blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat
- Swollen or enlarged lymph nodes
- Enlarged liver or spleen
If people experience acute chest pain, they must consult a doctor. In severe cases of anaemia, people may even suffer from a heart attack and therefore, chest pain shouldn’t be neglected.
Nutritional Requirements To Prevent Anaemia
As we have mentioned above, the major cause of anaemia is poor iron consumption. The daily nutritional requirement depends on age and sex. For example, older adults need more iron than children. Similarly, women require more iron and folate than men. This is because they lose a lot of blood during menstruation that includes loss of iron. Also, they need iron after childbirth during breastfeeding. Let us talk about the requirement of every nutrient.
The recommended daily intake of iron by the National Institutes of Health for men aged between 19-50 is 8mg. For women, it is 18mg but when they are pregnant, they must have 27mg of iron. Whereas, while breastfeeding, they need to reduce their iron intake to 9mg. Older adults aged above 50 irrespective of gender must consume 8mg of iron every day. Iron can easily get from the diet but if that doesn’t seem to be meeting the need, supplements can also be taken. Here is a list of foods that contain a high amount of dietary iron:
- Fortified cereals
- Chicken and beef liver
- Red meat
Folate is naturally produced in the human body as it is a form of folic acid. Even though it occurs naturally, you must include foods that are high in folate content in your diet. The recommended daily dosage of folate for an adult is 400 micrograms. When women are pregnant they should have 600 micrograms and 500 micrograms when they are breastfeeding. Find below the list of foods that can provide folate:
- Beef liver
You can also have Folic acid supplement if you cannot get this nutrient from food.
2.4 micrograms are the recommended daily intake of this vital vitamin. For pregnant women it is 2.6 micrograms and for breastfeeding mothers, it is 2.8 micrograms a day. You can get this vitamin from clams, beef liver, meat, fish, eggs, poultry and other dairy products.
How is anaemia diagnosed?
If you are suspecting that you are anaemic, you must see a doctor and tell them the signs and symptoms you are experiencing. The diagnosis of anaemia includes your present health status and your family history. Some people have a family history of some kind of anaemia which may increase their risk of getting it. The doctor may conduct some physical exams to confirm anaemia.
These are the tests that help in diagnosing anaemia:
CBC or complete blood count test- This is the first test that the doctor would conduct. It provides you with the number of RBCs and WBCs in the body. If the levels are too low, the doctor may prescribe you medications.
Vitamin B12 test- To find the levels of vitamin B12 in the body, this blood test is conducted. If they too low, the doctor can tell you to increase their intake.
Serum iron levels test: This test helps in finding iron deficiency in the body. It helps in identifying if iron deficiency is the prime cause of anaemia.
Folic acid test: As inadequate consumption of folate can also cause anaemia, this test helps in finding if folate is low in the body.
Other tests- Upon checking the results of the above tests, the doctor may also ask you to conduct other tests such as chest x-ray, CT scan of the abdomen, barium enema and an upper GI.
How to treat anaemia?
Depending on the test results, the doctor can prescribe the right treatment for anaemia. In most cases, diet recommendations are given to increase the consumption of essential vitamins and minerals like vitamin B12, iron and folate. If anaemia is happening due to deficiencies, improving the diet can really help. Also, this would prevent the recurrence of anaemia due to deficiencies. If the requirement isn’t fulfilled through diet, additional supplements may also be prescribed. These are solely done by doctors. You should not take any supplements without consultation. Only in severe anaemia cases, the doctor may give injections to boost the production of red blood cells in the body. Blood transfusion may be needed if the haemoglobin levels become very low. It is very important to follow all the instructions laid by the doctor to prevent and treat anaemia.