Saturday, December 9, 2023

What is Anemia?

You may have suffered from this, or may have heard about it before!
Many people use the term low blood.

Women talk about it often and, yes, of course, some men. This is a term that describes a condition where ones blood is ‘too thin or diluted’ to carry the ‘air’ we breathe to the muscles and other organs in the body.

The air we breathe has an important component called oxygen, which is vital for life and drives bodily activities.

If one receives little oxygen, such as in anemic person, they will not cope with normal activities, such as walking and daily domestic or occupational chores. The fact is if you have this condition, your blood is incapable of carrying sufficient oxygen for normal daily activities!

Is the phrase ‘low blood’ appropriate then?
Not really!
Low blood may be confusing as it always does to other people, especially that they know what ‘high blood’ is. The latter refers to high blood pressure which is so common nowadays! But there is also low blood pressure on the other end. Interestingly, the signs and symptoms of low blood pressure (when pressure is below 90/60 mmHg) cannot be easily differentiated from the signs of ‘anemia’!

What are the signs and symptoms of anemia?
The signs are not very specific, the following should worry you! General weakness, fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath when doing some physical activity and, in worse situations, shortness of breath which occurs even at rest! Headache, fatigue and weakness are the earliest symptoms. Palpitations are also common in anemia!

What causes anemia?
The common causes that are known include blood loss such as in females during monthly menses. High menstrual flow is the main risk factor, and may cause sudden onset of dizziness and blackouts. Bleeding peptic ulcers are also commonly known to cause some blood loss. These are caused by abuse of certain painkillers as we discussed last week, alcohol abuse, spicy and chilly foods. Some growths in the colon, mouth of the womb may also be hidden causes of blood loss.
Hemorrhoids can also cause anemia through blood loss!

Poor iron and folic acid intake, especially through diet and mal-absorption can also cause anemia. Most food stuffs lack sufficient amount of iron and folic acid. Lack of vitamin B12 is also a known cause of anemia.

Pregnancy also causes anemia because iron is also needed for the developing baby.
Some chronic diseases such as kidney failure, cancer and some infectious diseases are also known to cause anemia.

Certain medicines, such one type of ARV’s, is known to cause anemia.

What can one do to screen for anemia?
A regular health check is vital to screen for anemia. However, when your doctor suspects anemia, they may order a specific blood test to confirm it. Since anemia is a sign that there is a problem, doctors will always want to identify the underlying problem so further tests or investigations may need to be done!

Can we prevent anemia!
In most cases you can! If you have high menstrual flows or prolonged periods you need to find the cause, so that it can be addressed properly. Sometimes supplements may need to be taken alongside your diet to supplement your diet. Moderate intake of red meat, poultry, and large amounts of various vegetables will supply you with good amount of iron, folic acid, vitamin B12 and other vital vitamins and minerals. If you are on treatment please ask about the possible side effects of such, and always be on the look out!

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