Anemia is a condition that develops when there is a deficiency of red blood cells or hemoglobin, which is responsible for transporting oxygen. If red blood cells or hemoglobin are abnormal or low, the cells do not get enough oxygen. Anemia is the most common blood condition in the U.S., and it affects 3 million Americans. There are different types of anemia, and certain forms are hereditary. Women in the childbearing years are at higher risk of developing anemia because of blood loss from menstruation and the increased blood supply demands during pregnancy. People with chronic diseases and older adults are also at risk.
Types of Anemia
There are more than 400 types of anemia. Here are the main types.
This type of anemia is the most common. It is caused by a shortage of iron, which is needed to produce hemoglobin for red blood cells. It is important to eat iron-rich foods such as lean meats, which are also excellent sources of amino acids, to provide the body with the nutrients it needs. Blood loss, such as heavy menstrual bleeding, and regular use of some pain relievers, such as aspirin, can cause iron deficiency anemia.
Vitamin Deficiency Anemia
The body also needs folate and vitamin B12 to produce red blood cells. If you follow a diet that lacks these key nutrients, you may be at risk of developing vitamin deficiency anemia. Animal products such as lean meats and eggs are recommended sources of B12. This type of anemia is also known as pernicious anemia.
Chronic Disease Anemia
Certain conditions such as cancer, HIV, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, Crohn’s disease, and other inflammatory diseases can cause anemia because they affect the production of blood cells.
This type of anemia is rare and can be life-threatening. It occurs when the body cannot produce red blood cells because of infections, use of certain medicines, autoimmune diseases, and exposure to toxic chemicals.
Bone Marrow Disease Anemia
Bone marrow is the tissue located at the center of large bones where new blood cells are produced. Certain diseases such as leukemia and myelofibrosis can affect blood cell production and cause anemia. The effects of this type of anemia can be life-threatening.
This is a group of anemias that develops when certain blood diseases destroy blood cells, and the bone marrow cannot replace them fast enough. Hemolytic anemia can be inherited, or it can happen later in life.
This type of anemia is inherited, and it is caused by an abnormal form of hemoglobin that forces red blood cells to assume a crescent (sickle) shape. These irregular blood cells die prematurely, and the result of this is a chronic shortage of red blood cells.
Other forms of anemia include thalassemia, an inherited blood disorder, and malarial anemia.
Anemia symptoms depend on the cause, but here are some of the most common.
Other symptoms are associated with specific forms of anemia.
In the case of iron deficiency anemia:
- Hunger for strange substances such as paper or ice
- Upward curvature of the nails
- Soreness of the mouth with cracks at the corners
In the case of vitamin deficiency anemia:
- Tingling sensation in the hands or feet
- Lost sense of touch
- Stiffness of the arms and legs
We have seen that different causes determine the type of anemia. We can divide the causes into three main areas.
Anemia caused by blood loss
Red blood cells can be lost through bleeding, which may result from:
- Gastrointestinal conditions such as ulcers, hemorrhoids, gastritis, and cancer
- Regular use of anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin or ibuprofen
- Heavy menstrual bleeding and childbirth
Anemia caused by decreased red blood cell production
Red blood cells may be faulty or decreased due to abnormalities in red blood cells or a lack of vitamins. As a result, these conditions may develop:
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Vitamin deficiency anemia
- Bone marrow disease anemia
- Sickle cell anemia
Anemia caused by destruction of red blood cells
Red blood cells may be fragile and die prematurely, causing hemolytic anemia. Sometimes this can be a congenital disorder without specific cause. In other cases, causes include:
- Infections, drugs, or certain foods
- Toxins from liver or kidney disease
- Tumors, severe burns, certain chemicals
- Hypertension and clotting disorders
Anemia treatments depend on the cause.
Iron Deficiency Anemia
The treatment for this type of anemia includes diet changes or iron supplements. Animal proteins such as lean meats and eggs are recommended sources of iron, but if you follow a vegan diet, make sure you eat enough legumes and vegetables like spinach. Take a look at the top 10 iron-rich foods.
Vitamin Deficiency Anemias
The treatment for this type of anemia, usually caused by B12 deficiency, also involves diet changes and supplements. Take a look at the best foods that contain B12. Amino acids can also be helpful in treating vitamin deficiency anemia. Studies show that iron amino acid chelates (iron molecularly attached to an amino acid), such as iron glycinate chelates, act as fortificants and therapeutic agents in the prevention and treatment of iron deficiency anemia.
Chronic Disease Anemia
When treating chronic disease anemia, doctors focus on curing the disease that is causing the anemia. The treatment depends on the symptoms—if they become severe, a blood transfusion or injection of the hormone that stimulates red blood cell production and eases fatigue, may be performed.
Bone Marrow Disease Anemia
There are different types of bone marrow disease anemia, and the treatment can include medication, blood transfusions, chemotherapy, or bone marrow transplantation. Studies show that the amino acid L-leucine can help in the treatment of diamond-blackfan anemia, a disorder of the bone marrow.
People who have this type of anemia should avoid taking drugs that suppress the immune system and attack red blood cells. If the disease is severe, a transfusion or plasmapheresis may be necessary.
Sickle Cell Anemia
Treatment for this type of anemia may include the administration of oxygen, and pain-relieving drugs (approved by your doctor). Blood transfusions, supplements, and antibiotics may be recommended, and in some instances, a bone marrow transplant may be effective.