Condition: Anaemia

Anaemia is a common condition which occurs when levels of healthy red blood cells and haemoglobin are low, reducing the effective transport of oxygen around the body.

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What is anaemia?

Anaemia is a very common condition, estimated to affect one-third of the global population (more than 2 billion). It occurs when you do not have enough healthy red blood cells and haemoglobin (a type of protein) to transport oxygen around the body effectively. If you have anaemia, the tissues of the body don’t get the energy they need to function properly, which causes a number of unpleasant symptoms. 

Anaemia is particularly prevalent in young children, people who menstruate, and pregnant and postpartum women – the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that worldwide 40% of children between 6 and 59 months of age, 30% of women aged 15 to 49, and 37% of pregnant women, have anaemia.

What are the symptoms of anaemia?

The symptoms of anaemia can vary depending on the cause and how severe it is. There are often no symptoms in the milder, or beginning, stages of anaemia, and they start to develop as the condition worsens.

There are many symptoms of anaemia, but fatigue and drowsiness are often the most noticeable. 

Other symptoms of anaemia to look out for include:

●    Shortness of breath
●    Weakness, fatigue and feeling low in energy
●    Brain fog and difficulty concentrating 
●    Dizziness and feeling lightheaded
●    Fast or irregular heartbeat (palpitations/arrhythmia)
●    Cold hands and feet
●    Headaches
●    Pale skin and mucous membranes (mouth, nose, eyes), bruising more easily
●    Chest pain (a pressing or squeezing feeling)

If anaemia is left untreated it can also lead to:

●    Blueish whites of the eyes
●    Brittle nails
●    Cravings to eat ice or other non-foods
●    A sore or inflamed tongue
●    Mouth ulcers
●    Abnormal or heavy periods in females
●    Low libido in men

What causes anaemia?

Haemoglobin, which is produced predominantly in your bone marrow, is the oxygen-carrying protein inside red blood cells. It’s also what gives red blood cells their colour. If you have anaemia, it’s because something is impacting your haemoglobin production.

There are many different types of anaemia, with iron deficiency anaemia being the most common. As the name suggests, this type of anaemia is caused by low levels of iron.

Other causes of anaemia include:

  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Folate deficiency
  • Certain medications
  • The destruction of red blood cells and haemoglobin, often due to a problem with the immune system
  • Having a long-term condition, such as chronic kidney disease, cancer, ulcerative colitis, or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Pregnancy
  • Conditions that affect the bone marrow, such as lymphoma, leukaemia, myelodysplasia, multiple myeloma, or aplastic anaemia
  • Slow and persistent blood loss, from heavy menstrual periods or stomach ulcers, for example
  • Sudden heavy blood loss, caused by trauma or major surgery, for example
  • Genetics (sickle cell anaemia and thalassemia)
  • Post bariatric surgery

How is anaemia diagnosed?

To make a diagnosis of anaemia, your OneWelbeck consultant will take your medical history, ask you about your symptoms, perform a physical examination, and run some blood tests.

The blood tests will measure the concentration of red blood cells and also the level of haemoglobin in your blood, which will determine if you have anaemia. The tests may also be used to check the size, shape and colour of your red blood cells.

If you’re given a diagnosis of anaemia, but the cause is unclear, your consultant may need to run some more tests so that they can provide you with the most effective treatment. These simple blood test include iron studies, ferritin and vitamin levels (B12, folate). 

How can anaemia be treated?

While some types of anaemia are mild and short-term, others can be more severe and can last for a lifetime. Whichever the case, it’s important to treat anaemia so that it doesn’t have a lasting impact on your health. 

Treatments for anaemia can include:

●    Making changes to your diet
●    Taking supplements to increase your intake of certain nutrients
●    Iron infusions - if anaemia is severe
●    Medication to help boost red blood cell production
●    Treatment for an underlying condition that is causing your anaemia - iron supplementation(oral or intravenous injection), Vitamin supplementation

Your consultant will talk you through your options, offering you the most appropriate and effective treatment for the type of anaemia you have.