Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, February 21, 2014

Health Corner

What is anemia?

Not long ago, a family member was diagnosed with anemia. Although this doesn’t sound like a very threatening or worrisome disease, it can cause a myriad of health issues, and, if severe enough, hospitalization, which is exactly what happened to my loved one.

How did we know something was wrong? He was suddenly unable to lift his leg to climb stairs, or to even hoist himself into the car. So to the doctor we went, and from there, directly to the hospital.

Although the patient is doing well now and all traces of the anemia is gone, the recuperation time was quite lengthy. I’m talking months, and as I stated earlier, it caused numerous other problems.

So what causes anemia? This is not a black and white question. Anemia is the most common disorder of the blood. Approximately 3.5 million Americans are affected by it. There are more than 400 types of anemia. However, those 400 plus causes are divided into three basic groups: 1) anemia caused by blood loss; 2) anemia caused by decreased or faulty red blood cell production; and 3) anemia caused by the destruction of red blood cells.

When the number of red blood cells or concentration of hemoglobin are low, a person is said to have anemia. Hemoglobin is a protein inside the red blood cells that contains iron and transports oxygen.

The first group can be caused from several reasons: surgery, injury – anything that causes excessive bleeding.

Group two includes anemia caused by factors such as sickle cell anemia, iron-deficiency anemia, vitamin B12 deficiency, and bone marrow and stem cell problems, to name just a few. With this type of anemia, the body might produce too few blood cells, or the blood cells might not function correctly. Red blood cells may be faulty or decreased due to either the presence of abnormal red blood cells or lack of the vitamins and minerals needed for red blood cells to work properly.

In group three, when red blood cells are fragile and cannot withstand the routine stress of the circulatory system, they might rupture prematurely, causing hemolytic anemia. Hemolytic anemia can be present at birth or develop later. Sometimes, there’;s no known cause.

Symptoms of iron

deficiency anemia:

• Weakness, dizziness, or tiredness 

• Lack of energy 

• Shortness of breath 

• Palpitations and rapid heart rate 

• Headache 

• Tinnitus – perception of a noise in one or both ears that might be like ringing 

• Taste sense alterations and soreness of the tongue

• Pica – desire to eat non-food materials like mud, chalk, paper, clay, or ice 

• Hair loss

• Dry nails and skin, and itchiness

• Difficulty swallowing

• Loss of appetite

• Changed appearance including a pale complexion, decreased pinkness of the lips and nail beds, smooth and red tongue, painful ulcers at the corners of the mouth, dry, and spoon shaped nails.

Symptoms due to vitamin B12, or folate, deficiency

Common symptoms in patients with anemia due to vitamin B12, or folate, deficiency can be:

• Yellowish tinge of the skin

• Sore, red, and smooth tongue

• Ulcers in the mouth

• Altered or reduced sense of touch

• Reduced ability to feel pain

• Disturbed vision

• Irritability

• Depression 

• Psychosis, or derangement of behavior and thoughts

• Dementia, or decline of mental abilities, such as memory, judgment, and understanding 

• Muscle weakness

Your diet is the best source for preventing iron or vitamin B12 anemia. There are supplements that can be taken, along with a proper diet that can also help. If you suspect you might have a deficiency, or if you have had severe bleeding problems, you would be wise to have a CBC (complete blood count) to test for anemia.