Anemia is the most common blood disorder in the United States. It affects your red blood cells and hemoglobin. This is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. Anemia results from a lack of red blood cells or dysfunctional red blood cells in the body. This leads to reduced oxygen flow to the body's organs. You need iron in order to make hemoglobin. Most people who have anemia have a shortage of iron. This condition is called iron deficiency anemia.
Many people are at risk for anemia because of poor diet, intestinal disorders, chronic diseases, infections, and other conditions. Women who are menstruating or pregnant and people with chronic medical conditions are most at risk for this disease. The risk of anemia increases as people grow older.
The signs and symptoms of anemia can easily be overlooked. In fact, many people do not even realize that they have anemia until it is identified in a blood test.
The treatment for anemia depends on what causes it. Sometimes iron supplements will be needed to correct iron deficiency. In severe anemia, blood transfusions may be necessary. Vitamin B12 injections will be necessary for patients suffering from pernicious anemia or other causes of B12 deficiency.
In certain patients with bone marrow disease (or bone marrow damage from chemotherapy) or patients with kidney failure, epoetin alfa (Procrit, Epogen) may be used to stimulate bone marrow red blood cell production.
If you have any of the following chronic conditions,
you might be at greater risk for developing anemia:
• Rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune disease
• Kidney disease
• Liver disease
• Thyroid disease
• Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn disease or ulcerative colitis)
When you have anemia, your body lacks oxygen, so you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
• Shortness of breath
• Fast or irregular heartbeat
• Pounding or "whooshing" in your ears
• Cold hands or feet
Other types of Anemia include:
• Aplastic anemia. This occurs when your bone marrow has damaged stem cells. Your body fails to produce enough new blood cells. The condition affects your red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Sometimes it is called bone marrow failure.
• Hemolytic anemia. This occurs when your body destroys red blood cells before they should. The normal lifespan of red blood cells is 120 days.
• Normocytic anemia. This occurs when your red blood cells are normal in size, but low in count.
• Pernicious anemia. This occurs when your body lacks vitamin B12. It causes a shortage of healthy red blood cells.
• Sickle cell anemia (a form of sickle cell disease). This is a genetic disease that affects your red blood cells. It occurs when you are born with 2 abnormal hemoglobin genes.
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