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Anemia: Symptoms, Causes and Risk Factors

By on April 24, 2012 in Dieting, Diseases, Health, Prevention with 0 Comments

What is anemia? 

Anemia is a condition that affects red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen. The body needs iron to produce hemoglobin.

People with anemia do not have enough hemoglobin. The most common cause of anemia is when the body does not produce enough hemoglobin because they do not have enough iron. This is called iron deficiency anemia.

Another common type of anemia is when the body does not have enough red blood cells, red blood cells but you have are of normal size. This is called normocytic anemia.

What are the symptoms of anemia?

  • Often, no symptoms.
  • Pallor.
  • Feeling tired.
  • Unusual shortness of breath while exercising.
  • Unusual food cravings (called pica).
  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • Cold hands and feet.
  • Brittle nails or hair loss.
  • Headaches.
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness.

What factors can cause low iron levels?

A number of factors can cause low iron levels in the body:

Diet. You may have low iron if you do not eat enough foods high in iron. This is a problem primarily for children, young women who follow the diet “fad” and people who do not eat meat.

Inability to absorb iron. Iron from food is absorbed by the body in the small intestine. Diseases that affect the ability of the small intestine to absorb nutrients, such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease, can cause low iron levels in the body. Some foods or medicines, including milk, antacids or medications to reduce stomach acid, may also prevent the body from absorbing iron.

Growth spurts. Children under 3 are growing so fast that the body can have difficulty maintaining the amount of iron you need. Infants who drink cow’s milk in the first year of life are at risk for iron deficiency anemia. It is the most common dietary cause of iron deficiency in infants. Cow’s milk does not have a sufficient amount of iron that infants need to grow and develop. Do not give cow’s milk to her infant during the first year of life. Breastfed infants who do not eat foods rich in iron such as iron-fortified cereal or take an iron supplement after the fourth month of life are also at risk for iron deficiency anemia. Young children (ages 12 to 24 months) who drink a lot of cow’s milk, have a diet low in iron or already had iron deficiency as infants are also at risk.

Pregnancy. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding need more iron than women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. For this reason, pregnant women are often evaluated to determine if they have anemia and need to eat more foods rich in iron or take an iron pill a day.

When you are pregnant, your body produces more blood to share with your baby. You may have up to 30% more blood than when not pregnant. If you do not have enough iron, your body can not produce red blood cells needed to produce this extra blood.

The following factors may increase your risk of anemia during pregnancy:

  • Vomiting or morning sickness.
  • Not eating enough iron-rich foods.
  • Have heavy periods before pregnancy.
  • Have 2 closely spaced pregnancies.
  • Being pregnant with twins, triplets or more children.
  • Getting pregnant during adolescence.
  • Losing much blood (e.g. due to an injury or during surgery).

If you are pregnant and not getting enough iron, you are at risk of developing iron deficiency anemia.

Blood loss. The heavy periods can cause low iron levels in women. Internal bleeding, usually in the digestive tract, can also cause bleeding. A stomach ulcer, ulcerative colitis, cancer, or taking aspirin or similar drugs for a long time may cause bleeding in the stomach or intestines.

Genetic diseases. If have sickle cell disease or thalassemia, the body has problems producing healthy red blood cells, which can cause anemia. Also, this is at risk of transmitting the diseases to the unborn child. If you or someone in your family has one of these diseases, talk to your doctor about how to prevent or treat anemia during pregnancy.

What is the cause of normocytic anemia?

Normocytic anemia may be an issue of birth (called congenital) or may be caused by infection or disease (called acquired).

The most common acquired form of normocytic anemia is a chronic (long term). Chronic diseases that can cause normocytic anemia include kidney disease, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and thyroiditis. Some medications can cause you to have normocytic anemia, but this does not happen often.

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