The Signs and Symptoms of Anemia
Anemia is one of the most common blood conditions and can develop at some point in life or be hereditary. It causes enough concern itself, but it can also lead to a variety of other health problems, so it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms. Someone can become anemic when their body has a low hemoglobin level or red blood cell count. Red blood cells (RBCs) transport oxygen with the help of hemoglobin from the lungs to the rest of the body. Having too few RBCs can prohibit the rest of the body getting enough oxygen.
There are many types of anemia, however, some of the symptoms are shared. In this article, I will give an overview of the noticeable signs and symptoms of anemia as well as the ones that aren't so easy to recognize.
Common Symptoms of Anemia
The severity of the symptoms depends on the severity of your condition. They may range from fatigue and dizziness to more serious conditions like shortness of breath and irregular heartbeats. Please see your doctor if you notice any of these changes. Anemia is a serious condition, and if left untreated, can become life-threatening.
Fatigue and Decreased Energy
The decrease in the number of red blood cells means a decrease in the amount of oxygen supplied to the heart, muscles, and lungs. Because oxygen is required for your cells to make energy, you may feel mentally and physically drained.
Along the same lines, since your body is not producing enough energy, it will try to conserve what it can produce. This can lead you to experience muscle weakness.
When the brain does not receive enough oxygen, you will experience poor concentration, confusion, high irritability, and light-headedness or dizziness. You may also have difficulty falling asleep or waking up—despite always feeling tired.
You may recognize orthostatic hypotension as a dizzy spell after standing up. This results from a large drop in blood pressure and can indicate anemia. Your body automatically raises your blood pressure upon standing in order to supply blood to your brain (against the force of gravity). If you have anemia, your blood volume is lowered, so there is not much to pump, resulting in lightheadedness and dizziness.
Shortness of Breath
This is most evident when you engage in physical activities, although you may notice it while doing simple things like walking outside or going up the stairs. This is called dyspnea when it happens regularly. Anyone that experiences shortness of breath, especially without undertaking any physical activity, should consult a physician.
Anemia can cause heart palpitations, angina, and arrhythmia. Tissue hypoxia from low oxygen levels forces the heart to work harder to deliver enough oxygen to the cells. Patients that suffer from an existing heart condition are more likely to experience cardiac symptoms.
Skin Bruises More Easily
Loss of platelets coincides with the decrease in RBCs. Platelets are an element of the blood that helps you heal and assists in blood clotting. Having fewer platelets makes you more vulnerable to bruising and inability to stop bleeding.
Changes in Skin Tone
Blood is red when it is oxygenated and blue when it isn't. If you are anemic, you may notice that your skin appears pale or slightly blue. The change in appearance is most evident in the whites of the eyes and area underneath the tongue. In certain situations, there may be swelling of the mouth or tongue. Some people may notice cold hands and feet.
Jaundice is another skin condition that can occur in people with anemia. The changes in your blood can damage the liver, causing the skin to appear yellow.
Pica is an eating disorder where people crave non-food substances like ice, dirt, or clay. Pagophagia is a form of pica in which people compulsively ingest iced drinks or ice. It is the most common form of pica experienced by anemic patients.
Oral Health Symptoms
Anemia can sometimes cause changes in oral health. There is an increased chance of developing gum disease, or periodontitis. The decrease in red blood cells can make the gums look pale, and the tongue may begin to swell, become pale, or feel sore.
Changes in Urine Color
Changes in the color of urine may indicate the presence of anemia. Urine is usually clear or slightly yellow in color, depending on how hydrated you are. Abnormal looking urine may look dark, blood-colored, or cloudy. They type of anemia most likely to result in changes to urine color is hemolytic anemia. This is the result of the destruction of red blood cells that are excreted in the urine.
If the regularity and frequency of your menstrual cycle changes, you may have iron deficiency anemia. Anemia and menstruation can have a cyclical relationship: while anemia can affect the timing of menstruation, heavy periods can worsen the anemia.
Anemia Symptoms That Are Hard to Recognize
These are the changes caused by anemia that you may not notice immediately or may have difficulty attributing to anemia. This is why it is best to see your doctor if you have any changes in your health or any other concerns. Finding some of these symptoms may require blood tests to be done.
Impaired T-Cell and Macrophage Function
T-cells and macrophages are important parts of the immune system. For example, macrophages are white blood cells that reside in the connective tissue and bloodstream. They operate as your first line of defense and engulf viruses and bacteria. The impaired function of these cells leaves anemic people vulnerable to infections.
There are several gastrointestinal disorders like Crohn’s disease that affect the body’s ability to absorb iron. When the body does not absorb enough iron, it will begin to use its reserve. Once the iron reserves are gone, the body’s production of red blood cells starts to decrease.
Low Body Temperature
Your body regulates its internal temperature, maintaining it at 98.6 degrees °F (or 37 °C), despite the surrounding environmental conditions. A big part of this regulatory process is your blood vessels. Think of them as the oil-cooling or water-cooling system in your car. If you aren't producing enough blood, you aren't able to maintain your body temperature efficiently.
Low Blood Pressure
Decreased production of red blood cells tells the body to lower the blood volume (i.e. expel more water) to maintain a proper blood concentration. This decrease in blood volume means there is less pressure in the system. When your blood pressure is low enough, it contributes to many of the symptoms listed above, including fatigue, dizziness, and irregular heartbeats. However, small drops in pressure when you start developing anemia may go unnoticed.
There are many types of anemia with various causes. They can be hereditary, or they can develop later in life. In either case, it's important to know the warning signs so that you can catch it before it develops into something much worse. Anemia is a serious disease that can easily lead other health complications if left untreated. If you notice any of these symptoms in yourself or someone you know, it's best to consult your physician right away.