Anemia is a condition that many people associate with low iron levels. While this is a common cause of anemia, there are also other types of anemia that cause the same symptoms, which makes it difficult to distinguish between them.
Anemia is a common blood disorder that occurs when your level of healthy red blood cells is too low. Red blood cells contain a protein called hemoglobin, which is responsible for carrying oxygen to the tissues and gives blood its red colour. People with anemia often feel tired because there is not enough oxygen being delivered to their tissues.
There are many different types of anemia and depending on the type, symptoms of anemia can be mild to severe and the duration of symptoms can range from brief episodes to a chronic condition. Symptoms of anemia include fatigue, weakness, pale skin, shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, headache, and cold hands and feet.
If you have symptoms of anemia, it is very important that you see your doctor in order to determine which type of anemia you have, as some forms can be very serious and potentially life-threatening. The following is an overview on different types of anemia and their causes.
Iron deficiency anemia
Iron deficiency anemia is the most common form of anemia. It occurs when your iron levels are too low. Your body needs iron in order to make hemoglobin.
Low iron levels can be due to blood loss. Blood loss can occur due to heavy or long menstrual periods, uterine fibroids, ulcers, colon cancer, infections, severe injury, or regular use of acetylsalicylic acid (ASA). Low iron levels could also be caused by a lack of iron in the diet.
Iron-rich foods include meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, and iron-fortified foods. Alternatively, iron deficiency anemia could be caused by an inability to absorb iron due to conditions like Crohn's disease or celiac disease.
Vitamin deficiency anemia (megaloblastic anemia)
Your body also needs vitamin B12 and folate in order to produce enough red blood cells. Anemia due to vitamin B12 deficiency is called pernicious anemia and usually occurs when the body is not able to absorb vitamin B12 properly or due to intestinal problems. This type can also be caused by a lack of vitamin B12 in the diet.
Anemia due to folate (also called folic acid) deficiency is called folate deficiency anemia and is normally due to problems with absorbing vitamins or a diet lacking in folate. These types of vitamin deficiency anemias are also known as megaloblastic anemia, which refers anemia that causes red blood cells to be larger than their normal size.
Anemia of chronic disease
There are many chronic diseases that can disrupt the body's ability to produce red blood cells. Examples include HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, and kidney diseases.
This is a rare type of anemia in which the bone marrow decreases its production of all types of blood cells (including red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets). The cause is uncertain but it may be due to an autoimmune disorder, a viral infection, cancer treatments, or exposure to toxic chemicals. It may also be inherited.
Sickle cell anemia
This type of anemia is due to a problem with hemoglobin that causes red blood cells to have an abnormal crescent shape. The body destroys these cells quickly and new red blood cells cannot be made fast enough. Sickle cell anemia is a genetic disorder (i.e., it runs in the family).
Anemias associated with bone marrow disease
Many cancer and cancer-like disorders can cause a decrease in or even a complete shutdown of the blood-cell-making process of the bone marrow. Examples of these diseases include leukemia, myelodysplasia, and multiple myeloma.
This is due to red blood cells being destroyed faster than the bone marrow can produce new ones. The reason for the premature death of red blood cells may be due to the red blood cells themselves (inherited) or because of outside factors. Underlying causes include blood diseases, autoimmune disorders, and certain medications.
There are other rare forms of anemia, including thalassemia, G6DP deficiency, and hereditary spherocytosis.
Treatment for anemia depends on the type that you have. If it is due to lack of iron, vitamin B12, or folate in the diet, correcting the problem might be as easy as changing your diet or taking supplements.
For more severe forms of anemia, treatment may include blood transfusions, a bone marrow transplant, medications that suppress the immune system, or surgery. If you have symptoms of anemia, see your doctor as soon as possible.
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