What is Anemia

by Komal Narwani last updated -

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Anemia is one of the most common blood disorders in the world. Millions of people are diagnosed with this disorder each year. People can develop anemia easily if they do not have enough iron in their body and this is why this health condition is considered the most common disorder of the blood.

What is Anemia?

Anemia is a condition that occurs when a person has a low number of healthy red blood cells in their body. The World Health Organization defines it as a condition in which the number of red blood cells or their oxygen-carrying capacity is insufficient to meet physiologic needs. The main function of your red blood cells is to transport oxygen around your body. People with anemia generally tend to feel lightheaded, dizzy or weak. They may also tend to become breathless or experience a pounding heart. Some common types of anemia are sickle cell anemia and aplastic anemia.

What is sickle cell anemia?

Sickle cell anemia is usually an inherited disease, which is characterized by having sickle-shaped red blood cells. Normal red blood cells are round, flexible, and contain normal hemoglobin, a protein that helps transport oxygen around the body. In people with sickle cell anemia, red blood cells are sickle-shaped, and contain hemoglobin that can be rod-like, and thereby interfere with the flexibility of the blood cell. This means that oxygen can’t easily move around in the body.

What is aplastic anemia?

Aplastic anemia is a potentially life-threating form of anemia which affects not only red blood cells but also white blood cells and platelets. It can be caused by specific gene defects. It can also develop following exposure to certain viruses, radiation or dangerous chemicals.


Causes of Anemia

Anemia can be caused by blood loss, low levels of red-blood-cell production, or excess destruction of red blood cells, as per the National Institutes of Health. For example, blood loss-related anemia may occur through heavy menstruation or through gastrointestinal bleeding. If a person does not receive enough iron in their body, this lowers the production of red blood cells (iron deficiency anemia). Red blood cells may also be destroyed more quickly in individuals who have sickle cell anemia or are undergoing certain kinds of medical treatment.

There are several other reasons for anemia, including pregnancy, heavy blood loss, and dietary deficiencies. It is defined as a hemoglobin concentration below 12 g/dl in women and 13 g/dl in men, as per National Institutes of Health. In the case of hemolytic anemia, which is an inherited disease, red blood cells are destroyed as soon as they are manufactured. On the other hand, in the case of aplastic anemia, the red blood cells become damaged after their production, which reduces the number of red blood cells in the human body. In addition to this, patients who suffer from kidney failure, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and bowel disease might suffer from this disorder due to less production of red blood cells from the bone marrow, according to the American Society of Hematology.

Symptoms of Anemia

The main symptoms of anemia are the following:

  • Palpitations
  • Breath shortness
  • Dizzy spells
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Headaches
  • Sore gums
  • Sore throats
  • Brittle nails

In addition, people with sickle cell anemia may also experience pain, strokes, and other more serious health complications like pneumonia and osteomyelitis (bone infection).

Reviewed by Dr. Sudeep Vaniyath, MD, Internal Medicine, PGIMER & Dr. RML Hospital New Delhi.

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About the Author

An alumnus of St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, Komal is a quirky writer. She loves to add a touch of creativity to everything she does. She has a diverse background in teaching biology, working as an analyst, and freelancing as a content writer. There are only two ways she can express herself, first is words and second is dance.

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