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Anaemia is a condition in which there is insufficient haemoglobin and red blood cells in the body, meaning there isn’t enough to meet the body’s requirements to function as it should.
The red blood cells use haemoglobin to transport oxygen in the blood around the body. If the body is unable to carry oxygen around the body effectively, vital organs and tissues in the body may not receive the oxygen they need to function.
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Anaemia itself covers a broad umbrella of conditions. There are types of anaemia that are more prevalent than others, particularly in less wealthy countries.
More commonly found in the UK are nutritional anaemia, haemolytic anaemia and iron deficiency anaemia.
Nutritional anaemia is caused by limited amounts of proteins, iron and vitamin B12, as well as other mineral and vitamin shortages in the body. Due to a lack of the elements mentioned, the body is less likely to be able to produce haemoglobin, causing the deficiency.
Vitamin B12 is usually sourced from meat and fish in a person’s diet. If someone follows a vegan diet, the chances increase that they might develop this type of anaemia. It is important to note that, according to the NHS website, the most common cause of vitamin 12 deficiency anaemia is from the autoimmune condition; pernicious anaemia. The gut absorbs intrinsic factor mixed with vitamin B12. When a person has pernicious anaemia, it causes the immune system to damage the cells in the stomach, which produce intrinsic factor. Subsequently, the body can’t absorb vitamin B12 resulting in the deficiency.
Folate deficiency can cause anaemia due to the lack of folic acid in the blood and falls under the nutritional anaemia category.
Folic acid is a B vitamin required to help the body create red blood cells. Typically, folic acid is found in foods such as citrus fruits and leafy green vegetables. Thus, if a person isn’t eating enough of it in their diet, they’re more likely to develop this type of anaemia.
Haemolytic anaemia is a condition which attacks and destroys red blood cells much quicker than the body can produce them. The process of this is called haemolysis. An anaemic person already has a lower than average amount of red blood cells. This form of anaemia can be inherited, or developed in later life. There are two frequent causes of inherited haemolytic anaemia; thalassemia and sickle cell disease. If a person develops this type of anaemia, there are a multitude of reasons for this to happen. Blood cancers, hypersplenism, bacterial, or viral infections, some tumours and autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, to name a few.
Iron deficiency anaemia is the most prevalent form of anaemia in the UK, according to the NHS website. Iron deficiency in women of reproductive age is typically caused by an imbalance of iron as a result of the loss of blood during the menstrual cycle. When a female is pregnant, her body requires extra iron for the development of the baby. If the iron deficiency is detected and can be treated, then it should have little or no effect on the pregnancy.
Iron deficiency anaemia for men and post-menopausal women is commonly caused by bleeding in the stomach and intestine. This is usually related to taking NSAIDs, cancer of the stomach, stomach ulcers, or bowel cancer.
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The symptoms of anaemia, regardless of the type, are all relatively similar in how they present themselves. However, they can vary and do differ as per the individual.
Nutritional and iron deficiency anaemia symptoms…
- Tiredness and a lack of energy
- Pale skin
- Heart palpitations
- Dizziness, or confusion
- Diarrhoea, or weight loss
- Cravings of clay, or ice due to lack of iron
Haemolytic anaemia symptoms…
- Unusual paleness
- Yellow skin (jaundice)
- Struggling with physical activity
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For every individual with anaemia, depending on the type and other health issues, living with anaemia and the effects it will have are different for everyone.
If iron deficiency anaemia is left untreated, it can cause further health implications. Having a lack of iron weakens the immune system making a person much more vulnerable. If iron deficiency is caused by a person’s diet, a medical expert team may advise them to change their diet. This would entail eating foods rich in iron such as; meat, green leafy vegetables and pulses. Furthermore, it can be beneficial to consume less tea, coffee, dairy and foods which have high levels of phytic acid.
Similarly, efforts such as this may be useful and necessary if a person has folate deficiency anaemia, or another nutritional anaemia. Foods high in folic acid are also key as commonly, most cases of folate deficiency are due to someone’s diet.
Living with haemolytic anaemia differs between each individual circumstance. A medical team will work with a person accordingly, based upon their needs. This type of anaemia can benefit from a patient taking specific measures to reduce their risk of infection. Maintaining strict hand hygiene is key and, carrying some hand sanitiser around with you can help with this. In some cases, avoiding large crowds, as well as those you know to be unwell, can lower the risk of infection.
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Support available for those living with a form of anaemia varies in relation to the individual. A team of medical experts will help to support a person by suggesting lifestyle changes and in some cases, medication and other treatment.
For people with haemolytic anaemia, there are a variety of factors that can determine the type of support they will receive. This will be based upon a person’s age and the cause of the anaemia, amongst other factors. Treatment could include, strengthening the immune system, blood transfusions and corticosteroid medication.
A medical team could prescribe a person with iron deficiency anaemia with iron supplements in the form of tablets. Likewise, with other nutritional anaemias, it could be necessary to give someone vitamin supplements and/or other medication. Moreover, if someone’s anaemia is linked to an underlying condition, medical experts may focus on treating that to help with the anaemia.
If you find it difficult to remember to take your supplements, Ability Superstore has a number of mobility aid Pill Organisers that will aid your memory. There are also Pill Crushers, Pill Removers and mobility aid Pill Bottle Openers available.
For some types of anaemia there is support and further information available online:
Iron deficiency – www.nhs.uk/conditions/iron-deficiency-anaemia/
Vitamin B12 and nutritional anaemmis – www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamin-b12-or-folate-deficiency-anaemia/
The Aplastic Anaemia Trust – www.theaat.org.uk/
Pernicious anaemia society – https://pernicious-anaemia-society.org/
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Medical terms are often baffling and difficult to fully understand. To help, we have listed some frequently used terms below.
- Bacterial – caused by or relating to bacteria, for example a bacterial infection
- Blood transfusion – a medical procedure in which donated blood is provided to another person through a narrow tube
- Corticosteroids – a class of drugs that lowers inflammation in the body
- Immune system – a complex system of special organs, cells and chemicals that fight infection
- Menstrual cycle – the monthly hormonal cycle a woman’s body goes through to prepare for pregnancy
- Minerals – inorganic substances required by the body in small amount for a variety of different functions
- Protein – a macronutrient essential to help build muscle mass
- Tumour – an abnormal mass of tissue
- Viral infection – an infection caused by the presence of a virus in the body