Anemia is a common condition of the blood that currently affects nearly 2 billion individuals on a global scale. It is characterized by a deficiency in red blood cells or hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is responsible for binding oxygen to the cells. If you are anemic your hemoglobin levels will be low and your body’s cells will not be getting the proper amount of oxygen in order to keep your organs functioning normally.
There are over 400 different types of anemia that are divided into three groups: Anemia that is caused by blood loss, anemia that is caused by a decreased production of red blood cells, or anemia that is caused by the destruction of red blood cells.
Anemia can occur in individuals of all ages and genders; however, those who are pregnant, suffer from gastrointestinal disorders (such as Crohn’s disease), or have a diet that lacks in iron are at a much higher risk of developing anemia. Other risk factors include blood loss due to menstruation, cancer, and autoimmune disorders.
In its early stages, anemia may initially go unnoticed. However, one of the most common symptoms that Vancouver physician Dr. Ali Ghahary will see in patients who are anemic is fatigue. Other common signs and symptoms of anemia include weakness, dizziness or light-headedness, shortness of breath, headaches, skin that feels cold to the couch, skin that is pale, and heart palpitations.
In order to properly diagnose anemia, your doctor will order a blood test known as a CBC (complete blood count.) The normal range of hemoglobin is typically between 13.5 to 17.5 grams (g) per deciliter (dL). If your levels are below this range then that may be indicative of anemia and further blood testing may be necessary in order to help determine the root cause.
Treatment of anemia is dependent on the severity of the symptoms. It may be as simple as making some changes to your diet by including more foods that are rich in iron. A few examples of iron-rich foods include red meat, seafood, and dark, leafy green vegetables. Iron supplements are another way to treat anemia – however, due to the fact that iron is best absorbed on an empty stomach, some patients find that they can cause stomach upset and have also experienced other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and constipation. When taking an iron supplement, consider starting on a half dose for a few weeks so that you can build up a tolerance. Laxatives or stool softeners can also help provide relief.