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Anemia is a condition which arises when the oxygen carrying capacity of the red blood cells is insufficient to cater for the body’s physiological needs (WHO, 2001). This could be as a result of reduced number of Red blood cells or the reduction in the oxygen carrying capacity of the individual cells. The body’s psychological needs differ with age, sex and psychological status of the individual (WHO, 2001). Globally iron deficiency is thought to be the major cause of anemia. However there are other known causes of anemia such as inherited disorders, parasitic infections, chronic inflammation and vitamin A deficiency (WHO, 2001).
Generally there are three types of anemia and are classified according to the size or number of red blood cells
- Microlytic anaemia; occurs where the red blood cells are smaller than normal. This could be as a result of iron deficiency or thallasemia an inherited disorder of haemoglobin
- Normocytic anemia: Occurs where the red blood cells are normal but are low in number. This anemia is related to kidney disease and other chronic diseases
- Macrolytic Anemia: this occurs where the red blood cells are larger than normal. One of the major causes of this anemia is alcoholism.
Causes of anemia
As mentioned earlier Iron deficiency is the most widespread and common cause of anemia (WHO, 2001). In addition to this Anemia is one of the most common nutritional disorders. Iron deficiency is a condition where there are no available iron stores and as a result there is compromised supply of iron to body tissues. The more severe stages of iron deficiency are associated with anemia. Anemia can also result from haemolysis due to malaria, glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency and hereditary defects in hemoglobin synthesis. Moreover, deficiency in nutrients such as vitamins C, A, B12 and folic acid can lead to anemia (NHLIB, 2009). Blood loss resulting from events such as hemorrhage during child birth and trauma can result to Iron deficiency and anemia. Vitamin A deficiency inhibits the normal metabolism of Iron resulting to anemia.
Limited functioning of the red blood cells results to reduced oxygen delivery to the body tissues (WHO, 2001). There are several signs and symptoms of anemia. In some cases no symptoms may be realized in where anemia is mild. However, the symptoms are realized as the condition gets more serious. Symptoms of anemia could include
- Decreased energy (Lethagy)
- Shortness of breath (Dysponea)
- Palpitations (Irregular heartbeats)
- Looking pale
- Tinnitus (perception of noise in the individual’s ears which comes from inside the body. Ringing of ears)
The symptoms of anemia can develop slowly/gradually and may become more prevalent as the illness develops. For instance one may notice the feeling of tiredness and shortness of breath while running or climbing stairs and other activities.
Diagnosis of anemia from home is difficult unless it is related to blood loss, however the doctors able to diagnose the condition easily. People with other conditions may also be tested for anemia.
Infants are born with adequate iron stores and may not be susceptible to iron deficiency. Breast milk is not rich in iron. Iron deficiency could occur six months of age. Old People could also experience iron deficient anemia as a result of decrease in quality and quantity of foods consumed (WHO, 2001).
Adolescent females may not take adequate iron resulting in anemia. This usually occurs at the onset of the menstrual losses. The peak of Iron deficiency among females occurs during adolescence.
Pregnant women are vulnerable and may experience iron deficiency. This is because the fetus and the placenta require iron during pregnancy (WHO, 2001). The body requirement for iron is relatively high during pregnancy. Iron is also lost from the body during lactation. Women who experience anemia during pregnancy can have it progress during lactation.
Chronic and recurrent infections may impair haemotopoeisis leading to anemia (Weiss & Goodnough, 2005). Examples of infections include malaria, schistosomiasis which could contribute to iron deficiency. Genetic factors such as thalassemia and the sickle cell trait can also lead to anemia (Weiss & Goodnough, 2005).
Prevention and treatment
Medications can be used for the treatment of anemia. These medications address the underlying causes of anemia and include, taking of iron tablets when the iron levels are low such as during pregnancy. People with pernicious anemia are unable to absorb sufficient vitamin B12 (NHLIB, 2009). Therefore they may be provided with vitamin, B12 supplements. An injection of Epogen can also be used to increase the level of red blood cells. Where alcohol has been the cause of anemia, its consumption can be regulated in order to manage the condition (WHO, 2001). Occurrence of anemia can be prevented by eating a balanced diet and limiting the consumption of alcohol.
Anemia is a multi-etiological condition that results to provision of insufficient oxygen to the body tissues. There are several predisposing factors that can increase the occurrence of anemia in an individual. Iron deficiency anemia can be prevented through the consumption of a balanced diet rich in Iron. Adolescents, Pregnant women and lactating mothers are the most vulnerable to iron-deficiency anemia. The treatment of anemia involves remedying the condition that has led to its occurrence. Therefore individuals diagnosed with anemia harbor other medical anomalies which must be corrected in order to manage the disease.