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What is Anemia?

What is Anemia?

Anemia is a medical condition that is characterized by a reduced number of red blood cells and the lack of the average quantity of hemoglobin in the blood. Because the red blood cells carry oxygen to other body tissues, anemia can cause numerous problems. In severe cases, it can cause dangerously low oxygen levels in vital organs like the heart and can cause a heart attack. There are several types of treatment for anemic patients that can significantly reduce the disease's symptoms and the likelihood of causing severe complications.

What Causes Anemia?

The potential causes for anemia are numerous. Red blood cells are produced primarily in the bone marrow, which is the soft tissue inside the bones. Often problems with the bone marrow such as leukemia or lymphoma lead to reduced production of red blood cells and hemoglobin. Healthy red blood cells generally live for 90 to 120 days and are then excreted from the body. When this happens, a hormone in the kidneys known as erythropoietin signals the bone marrow to produce red blood cells. Sometimes kidney or hormone disorders can prevent the bone marrow from knowing when to create more cells. There are also several other common causes of anemia including some medications, genetics, excessive blood loss, pregnancy, poor nutrition, low iron, and thyroid or immune system disorders. Some chronic diseases including cancer and rheumatoid arthritis can also cause anemia.

What are Symptoms of Anemia?

The most common symptoms of anemia include dizziness, light-headedness, difficulty concentrating, shortness of breath, fatigue, headache, pale skin, and chest pain. Some patients may also experience additional symptoms including tingling, problems thinking, or constipation. Severe cases can cause a rapid heartbeat, cardiac ventricular hypertrophy, and signs of heart failure. When low iron is the cause of anemia, it may cause restless legs syndrome or pica, an eating disorder in which sufferers compulsively ingest non-food items such as paper, hair, or dirt. Less common symptoms include heartburn, bruising of the skin, vomiting, and swelling of the arms or legs.

How Do I Get Tested for Anemia?

Doctors typically diagnose anemia through a physical examination and blood tests. A family medical history may also reveal an increased chance of patients having certain types of anemia. Once anemia has been diagnosed, other tests may be performed to determine the exact cause. Often bone marrow samples and hormone testing is required.

What are my Treatment Options for Anemia?

Treatment for anemia depends on the exact cause, as does the prognosis for the disease. Many severely anemic patients require blood transfusions to maintain healthy levels of red blood cells. Some patients may also be prescribed medications designed to suppress the immune system or stimulate the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells. In milder cases, doctors often recommend supplements like vitamin B12, folic acid, iron, or other vitamins and minerals.

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