Anaemia

A condition wherein the count of red blood cells (RBCs) in the blood goes down is known as anaemia. As a result, there is a fall in the levels of the oxygen-carrying pigment – haemoglobin in the blood. Anaemia is the most common blood related disorder. Women often tend to become anaemic during pregnancy, as the demand for iron and other vitamins is very high. Expectant mothers must, thus, make sure that their red blood cell count is maintained.

As a matter of fact, there are two-billion people in the world who suffer from iron deficiency. Around 85% of pregnant women suffer from the condition, and it is one of the common reasons for a fall in the academic performance of students.

Signs & symptoms

  • Tiredness, weakness, fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Pain in legs, hands and other parts of the body due to irregular blood supply
  • Pale skin
  • Frequent fainting
  • Breathlessness following exercises
  • Palpitation (high heart beat rates)

Causes
There are three main causes of anaemia:

  • Low level of haemoglobin due to poor quality and unhygienic food and irregular diet are few of the major causes.
  • Loss of red blood cells from the body at an abnormal rate through slow, chronic bleeding, as with heavy menstrual periods or gastrointestinal bleeding.
  • Destruction of RBCs at a rate faster than their production.

Diagnosis
There are several tests and investigations for proper diagnosis of anaemia. They includes:

  • A blood count to check the exact number of all the types of cells in the blood
  • A blood film test to examine the the colour and shape of the cells
  • A test to check the levels of folic acid and vitamin B12
  • A test to examine the content of iron in the body
  • A reticulocyte count to measure how many young cells the bone marrow is producing

Treatment
A good supply of oxygen through the blood is essential for good health. First and foremost, an anaemic person should pay extra attention to what he eats and what he does not. Besides other nutrients, people who suffer from anaemia should include good amount of iron and protein in their diet to gain the normal value of haemoglobin, which is 12-16 per miligram units in women and 14-18 per miligram units in men. Expectant mothers must take iron tablets and vaccinations on regular basis, so that their babies are healthy.

Types of Anaemia
When classified on basis of the size and appearance of the cells, there are three types of anaemia:
1. Haemolytic anaemia
2. Macrocytic anaemia
3. Microcytic anaemia

1. Haemolytic anaemia
The normal lifespan of a red blood cell is 120 days. In this type the    lifespan of the RBCs is severely shortened and they are destroyed at a rate faster than normal. There are several reasons for this, one of them being inheritance.

Symptoms

A common symptom is jaundice due to high levels of bilirubin, which is the breakdown product of haemoglobin.
As the spleen is the main site of red blood cell destruction, it may get enlarged.

Causes

  • Inherited disorders of the cell surface membrane and disorders of cell content
  • Reaction to blood transfusion
  • Anti-malarial drugs
  • Burns
  • Infections such as malaria
  • Mechanical heart valves

2. Macrocytic anaemia
In macrocyptic anaemia the cells look larger and paler than normal, and they are mainly the result of vitamin deficiency – either vitamin B12 or folic acid. Both of these vitamins are essential for the efficient formation of RBCs in the bone marrow.

Symptoms
Apart from the other common symptoms, macrocyptic anaemia can cause nervous system dysfunction or sore tongue.

Causes

  • Irregular and unbalanced diet
  • High intake of alcohol
  • Intestinal problems
  • Anticancer drugs
  • Pregnancy, as greater number of RBCs are needed to ensure good health of the mother and healthy development of the foetus.

Treatment
If the condition is due to vitamin B12 deficiency, injections of B12 are given. Folic acid deficiency is treated with folic acid tablets.

3. Microcytic anaemia
This form of anaemia is characterised by small, pale RBCs. The most common cause is the deficiency of iron, an essential component of haemoglobin. One of the main reasons of iron deficiency is our diet, which often lacks appropriate amount of iron, which the body requires.

Symptoms
Apart from general symptoms, microcytic anaemia may also display symptoms like brittle, spoon-shaped nails, a smooth, painful tongue and brittle hair.

Causes

  • Blood loss in women due to menstrual periods
  • Blood loss in men, usually due to diseases in the gut or kidney
  • Intake of food deficient of iron. This problem is common among vegetarians
  • Decreased iron absorption from the intestine

Treatment
Most of the people can correct the condition by eating iron-rich food, which includes green leafy vegetables and iron supplements. However, in cases of severe anaemia blood transfusion may be required.

You may have noticed that your baby, till it is six to eight weeks old, is crying but there are no tears in the eyes. This is because the tear glands are not developed in babies till they are approximately eight weeks old