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     Volume 5 Issue 95 | May 19, 2006 |

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Understanding Anaemia

Anaemia is a condition that develops when your blood is deficient in healthy red blood cells, which are the main transporter of oxygen to organs. If red blood cells are also deficient in haemoglobin, then your body isn't getting enough iron. Symptoms of anaemia -- like fatigue -- occur because organs aren't getting enough oxygen.

Anaemia is a very common blood condition. Women and people with chronic diseases are at increased risk of the condition. Important factors to remember are:

* Certain forms of anaemia are hereditary and infants may be affected from the time of birth.

* Women in the childbearing years are particularly susceptible to a form of anaemia called iron-deficiency anaemia because of the blood loss from menstruation and the increased blood supply demands during pregnancy.

* Seniors also may have a greater risk of developing anaemia because of poor diet and other medical conditions.

There are many types of anaemia. All are very different in their causes and treatments. Iron-deficiency anaemia, the most common type, is very treatable with diet changes and iron supplements. Some forms of anaemia -- like the anaemia that develops during pregnancy -- are even considered normal. However, some types of anaemia may present lifelong health problems.

What Causes Anaemia?
There are more than 400 types of anaemia, which can be broadly classified into three categories:

  • Anaemia caused by blood loss: Red blood cells can be lost through bleeding, which can occur slowly over a long period of time, and can often go undetected. This kind of chronic bleeding commonly results from gastrointestinal conditions such as ulcers, haemorrhoids, gastritis (inflammation of the stomach) and cancer. Menstruation and childbirth often cause significant blood loss in women, especially if menstrual bleeding is excessive and if there are multiple pregnancies.
  • Anaemia caused by decreased or faulty red blood cell production: In sickle cell anaemia, an inherited disorder, red blood cells become crescent-shaped (hence the name, "sickle cell") because of a genetic defect. They break down rapidly, so oxygen does not get to the body's organs, causing anaemia. The crescent-shaped red blood cells also get stuck in tiny blood vessels, causing pain.
  • Anaemia caused by decreased red blood cell production: Iron deficiency anaemia occurs because of a lack of the mineral iron in the body. Your bone marrow (in the centre of the bone) needs iron to make haemoglobin, the part of the red blood cell that transports oxygen to the body's organs. Without adequate iron, your body cannot produce enough haemoglobin for red blood cells. The result is iron deficiency anaemia.

An iron-poor diet can cause iron-deficiency anaemia, especially in infants, children, teens and vegetarians. The metabolic demands of pregnancy and breastfeeding can deplete a woman's iron stores, as can menstruation. Both frequent blood donation and endurance training can also run down the body's iron stores. Some people have enough iron in their diets, but cannot absorb the iron because of digestive conditions or because part of their stomach or small intestine has been surgically removed. Certain drugs, foods and caffeinated drinks can also interfere with iron absorption.

Vitamin B-12 and folate deficiency anaemia (megaloblastic anaemia) is another anaemia caused by vitamin deficiency.

Some people have a condition that prevents the body from absorbing vitamin B-12 from food, leading to what's called pernicious anaemia. People who eat little or no meat -- vegetarians or vegans -- may not have enough vitamin B-12 in their diets.

Thalassemia is an inherited anaemia that occurs when the red cells can't mature and grow properly. Thalassemia is an inherited condition that typically affects people of Mediterranean, African, Middle Eastern, and Southeast Asian descent. This condition can range in severity from mild to life-threatening; the most severe form is called Cooley's anaemia.

Lead is toxic to the bone marrow, and lead exposure can lead to anaemia. Lead poisoning occurs in adults from work-related exposure and in children who eat paint chips. Improperly glazed pottery can also taint food and liquids with lead.

Anaemia associated with other conditions. In advanced kidney disease and hypothyroidism the body does not produce adequate hormones necessary for red blood cell production. Other chronic diseases -- such as autoimmune disorders, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and infection -- can also reduce red blood cell production.

Source: webmd.com


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