Anemia Types, Symptoms and Treatment
Types of Anemia
Anemia is frequently called low blood count, specifically of the red blood cells. Red blood cells are the oxygen and waste carriers of the circulatory system. When there is not enough red cells, oxygen delivery is reduced and this will affect every organ in the body. Waste chemical removal is also reduced and toxins build up in the tissues.
Red cell anemia is often confused with white cell leukemia. The two are quite different. Leukemia is a disorder of the white blood cells, the infection fighters of the body. White blood cells do not carry oxygen. They specifically seek out foreign invaders in the body and remove them. Occasionally, the white cell system can go overboard causing the body to attack itself as if it were a foreign object.
There are several types and causes of red cell anemia and they will be introduced here. Anemia shows up in levels of severity ranging from mild to severe. Treatments for anemia are as varied as the causes of the affliction.
During a yearly health examination, your doctor should order a Complete Blood Count (CBC). This test requires one small tube of blood and the blood is examined by a machine which counts the cells per milliliter of blood. A smear is also examined by a Medical Technologist. Anemia is one of the conditions that a CBC will diagnose.
Complete Blood Count
Symptoms of Anemia
When the body loses red blood cells, the tissues cannot get enough oxygen to operate correctly. Whatever the cause of anemia, the first symptom is tiredness. Sometimes, as in sudden blood loss, the tiredness is swift and can lead to death. Other types of anemia may come on gradually and unnoticed until the anemic patient tries to climb stairs or exert themselves in some way. The result is shortness of breath on exertion.
Another symptom is paleness of the hands, face and feet. The extremities suffer first from oxygen deprivation and there is a noticeable lack of blood flow. These areas are often cold to the touch.
Irritability arises from fatigue and shortness of breath. Feelings of inadequacy will befall the patient as they cannot physically do what they were once capable of doing. Lack of oxygen to the brain will cause dizziness and nausea. Anemic patients may lose consciousness or feel like they are going to pass out.
These symptoms may be temporary or chronic depending on the cause of the anemia. Some anemias require blood transfusions or iron supplements. Changing the diet may be of use in increasing iron stores and vitamin B12 may help to increase energy.
Causes of Anemia
The number one cause of anemia is blood loss:
- Sudden blood loss results from injury and trauma
- Inherited causes of blood loss include sickle cell anemia, Thallasemia, inherited absorption disorders (unable to absorb iron) and autoimmune disorders such as Lupus.
- Chemical destruction of red blood cells occur in cancer and chemotherapy treatment
- Transfusion reactions can cause widespread destruction of red blood cells
- Other systemic conditions such as kidney disease, HIV, tuberculosis and diabetes may cause blood loss.
Types of Anemia
Type of Anemia
Iron deficiency anemia
Patient is unable to absorb iron to make hemoglobin which causes destruction of red cells
Dietary changes to include iron rich foods and some vitamins
The bone marrow is not producing red cells
Blood transfusions, bone marrow transplants
Complicated condition requiring a specific diagnosis as to what is causing the hemolysis
Blood transfusions, bone marrow transplants, treating the cause
Usually a vitamin deficiency causes this anemia
Drug and vitamin supplements may help
May affect the elderly and infirm
Treat the underlying cause
How to Diagnose Anemia
Diagnosing the different types of anemia is the job of a Hemotologist which may be a Medical Doctor (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.). A specialist in internal medicine or other specialists will diagnose and treat anemias. An Immunohematologist may be consulted if blood transfusions are needed.
Anemia is diagnosed by the use of the Complete Blood Count blood test, a bone marrow exam, tests for iron and vitamin levels and other lab tests. Interpretation as to the type of anemia is done by medical specialists who will also decide the course of treatment.
Do not attempt to treat your own anemia. You may do more harm than good. For instance, iron deficiency anemia is treated initially with diets high in iron and iron supplements. These supplements can be toxic if not needed. Trust your hematologist as they have much experience in treating anemias.
The Opposite of a Low Blood Count
The direct opposite of anemia is polycythemia - a condition of the body producing too many red blood cells. The treatment for polycythemia is blood donation. A treatment to lower their iron stores may be necessary also.
Donating Blood to Help Patients With Anemia
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