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Anemia, otherwise popularly known as ‘low blood’

Publishing Date : 19 January, 2016

Author : DR BOIMA

Many women (and men) are battling this condition without knowing what has really brought it up. Some people get confused at how they can have ‘low blood’ at the same time at which they supposedly have ‘high blood’. ‘Low blood’ is a term that has been used loosely locally to refer to anemia.

This is a misnomer as many people might mistake it to mean the opposite of ‘high blood’ or high blood pressure. Blood pressure is the measure of the pressure in the arteries (blood vessels) when the heart pumps blood through the body.

The higher the resistance of the arterial walls the higher the BP number. The opposite of high blood pressure is, low blood pressure or hypotension. This is an abnormally low BP of less than 90/60. In healthy people, low blood pressure without any symptoms is not usually a concern and does not need to be treated. There is a percentage of people who have their normal BP at around 90/60. Low blood pressure is only a concern when it is secondary to an underlying problem like heat stroke, loss of blood, severe dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea, severe infection (sepsis) or overtreatment with antihypertensive drugs. When the blood pressure is very low, the brain gets deprived of adequate blood supply and this can lead to dizziness or lightheadedness.

Anemia on the other hand is a condition in which the red blood cell count or hemoglobin is less than normal. For men, anemia is typically defined as hemoglobin of < 13.5 gram/dl and in women as hemoglobin < 12.0 gram/dl. Hemoglobin is an iron-rich protein that is contained in red blood cells.  Its main function is to carry adequate oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. When one has anemia, their body tissues are deprived of oxygen and the following symptoms may be experienced:
Feeling weak or tired most of the time
Shortness of breath
Palpitations (feeling your heart beat fast or irregularly)
Cold hands or feet
Pale skin
Chest pain
Desire to eat ice or soil (pica syndrome)
Brittle nails

Anemia is caused by either an increase in loss of red blood cells (bleeding), or a decrease in production of red blood cells or hemoglobin, or destruction of red blood cells.
Blood Loss - Blood loss can be either rapid, chronic or both. Examples of rapid blood loss include trauma, surgery, or childbirth. Chronic blood loss can be as a result of heavy menstrual bleeding, stomach ulcers, cancers or bleeding disorders.  Blood loss that exceeds the production of new red blood cells leads to shortage of iron in the body known as iron deficiency anemia (IDA). This is the most common type of anemia. IDA may also be due to poor iron intake, or absorption of iron. Vegetarians are particularly at risk of anemia due to the elimination of meat and, therefore, its high iron content from the diet.

Decreased Production - The bone marrow which is located in the centre of our bones is where all blood cells are produced.  Bone marrow can be affected by a number of diseases like cancers, hampering the production of healthy red blood cells. In addition to iron, the body needs vitamins to produce enough healthy red blood cells. People with poor dietary intake and chronic diseases are at risk of anemia.

Destruction - Red blood cells typically have a life span of 120 days in the bloodstream before they are destroyed.  One type of anemia that is caused by premature destruction of red blood cells is autoimmune hemolytic anemia. This is characterized by the body's immune system mistakenly identifying its own red blood cells as foreign and subsequently producing antibodies against them.  

Anemia can be detected by a simple blood test called full blood count (FBC). This reveals the hemoglobin level and other components, that the doctor can look at and gather clues as to what could be the most common explanation for anemia.  The treatment of the anemia varies greatly and very much depends on the particular cause. An iron-rich diet can help alleviate the symptoms of anemia. These foods include (meat especially beef, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, nuts, dairy and cereals). A daily multivitamin will also help prevent nutritional anemia.

If the anemia is particularly serious, the doctor may prescribe medicine to enable your body to produce more red blood cells (iron supplements) or to try and treat the underlying cause of the anemia itself. These can include antibiotics to treat infections and hormonal medications to help regulate heavy menstrual bleeding in women. In severe cases, a blood transfusion may be recommended to boost levels of red blood cells. In the Western countries, a bone marrow transplant may be possible if the bone marrow is diseased and unable to produce healthy red cells.

For enquiries and comments please email agboima@yahoo.com



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