What is anaemia?
Anaemia is a broad term for when your body does not have enough working red blood cells. Red blood cells are the cells that make up most of your blood and help to carry oxygen to your body’s muscles and organs. When you are anaemic, your red blood cells are not getting enough oxygen to your muscles and organs which is what leads to the symptoms.
What are the symptoms of anaemia?
A lot of times, we can be anaemic and not even know it! Commonly, it is something which is picked up on a blood test for something else. However, symptoms you may be experiencing are:
Fatigue (feeling tired) and muscle weakness
Shortness of breath (especially when exercising or doing something strenuous)
You or your friends may notice that you are looking more pale than usual
What causes anaemia?
Anaemia can be caused by a lot of things, including genetic causes (such as thalassemia) or as a result of other long-term medical conditions (like rheumatoid arthritis). However, by far the most common cause of anaemia is not having enough iron. This is because iron is used by the body to make haemoglobin, which is the part of the red blood cell which carries the oxygen. A lack of iron may because you are not eating enough iron in your diet (for example if you are vegetarian or not eating enough), or it may be because you are losing blood somewhere and your body’s iron stores can’t keep up with the amount of blood cells you are losing. This may be because of heavy periods, or you may be losing blood somewhere else. It is important that you check the colour of your bowel motions, as your digestive tract is somewhere you may be losing blood and not realising it (for example from a stomach ulcer).
How can anaemia be treated?
The treatment for anaemia is to treat whatever is causing it. You doctor will want to do some more tests to work out whether the cause of your anaemia is because of a lack of iron or another reason. If your doctor thinks you may be losing blood through your digestive tract, you might need an endoscopy or colonoscopy, where a camera will look for any bleeding. If you are getting anaemic from heavy periods, you may want to talk to your GP/gynaecologist about how best to manage these periods. Depending on how low your red blood cell and haemoglobin levels are, you may need iron supplements or an iron injection. Do not take iron supplements unless instructed by your doctor, as too much iron can also be harmful.
To avoid getting anaemia from low iron levels, it is important to eat a diet which is high in iron. Commonly we get this from red meat, however other sources are cereals, beans, tofu, chickpeas and lentils. Eating these foods with foods that are high in vitamin C (like orange juice) will help absorbing the iron, while you should avoid having tea or coffee with these foods as they will impair iron absorption.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic, feel free to book an appointment with one of our friendly doctors by booking online or contacting us by phone on 8269 6000.
Nutrition Australia 2014, Iron Fact Sheet, [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nutritionaustralia.org/sites/default/files/Iron-2014.pdf [Accessed 16 March 2018)
Pasricha, SR, Flecknoe-Brown, SC, Allen, KJ, Gibson, PR, McMahon, LP, Olynyk, JK, Roger, SD, Savoia, HF, Tampi, R, Thomson, AR, Wood, EM & Robinson, KL 2010, ‘Diagnosis and management of iron deficiency anaemia: a clinical update’, Med J Aust, vol. 193, no. 9, Nov 1, pp. 525-532.
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