Today there are a large number of people who struggle with vague symptoms of fatigue, dizziness, headache, and pale skin. While this could be caused from a number of things, it could also be signs of anemia or subclinical anemia, which produces symptoms, but is not as detectable. Anemia is a blood condition in which there are too few red blood cells or the red blood cells are deficient in hemoglobin.
Red blood cells deliver oxygen to the tissues and organs of the body. Hemoglobin is important because it is the iron-rich protein in red blood cells, which carries oxygen to the body. Anemia can often go undetected until it is highly progressed and symptoms are more ominous.
Anemia can be caused by any number of things – iron deficiency, vitamin B12 / folate deficiency, excessive blood loss (ie heavy menses, gastrointestinal bleeding), medications, specific chronic or hereditary conditions (ie thalassemia), etc. The most common symptoms of anemia are weakness and fatigue. Anemia causes the heart to work harder to pump oxygen-rich blood through the body, thus decreasing energy to do normal activities. While mild to moderate anemia may cause very mild symptoms or none at all. Some other signs and symptoms of anemia would include:
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness / lightheadedness
- Palpitations / heart racing
- Coldness in the hands and feet
- Pale skin / pale inside of lower eye lid
- Change in stool color, including black and tarry stools
- Visibly bloody stools
These signs and symptoms can occur because a low red blood cell count decreases oxygen delivery to every tissue in the body, anemia can cause a variety of signs and symptoms. It can also worsen the symptoms of almost any other under medical condition. If anemia is mild, it may not cause any symptoms. If anemia is slowly ongoing (chronic), the body may adapt and compensate for the change; in this case, there may not be any symptoms until the anemia becomes more severe.
There are many reasons oxygen delivery may be decreed. Oxygen delivery affects how the mitochondria function. Mitochondria are the primary energy producers in the body. Their performance affects the functioning of all other muscles, organs, glands, and even the brain. Mitochondria need both oxygen and glucose, to function optimally. An imbalance of either of these will cause inadequate fuel for the body's processes, which affects tolerance to exercise, the ability to lose weight, and overall health.
Much like a high performance sports car, that requires the highest quality gasoline available to achieve top performance, cells need optimum amounts of oxygen for proper performance. Car performance sufferers dramatically without optimum fuel and the body needs optimal oxygen for its proper performance.
Potential complications of untreated anemia are arrhythmias (a dangerous irregularity in the rhythm of the heartbeat), organ damage (related to lack of oxygen to them), and reduced blood volume (related to bleeding problems), that can lead to loss of life.
The first goal of treatment is to find the undering cause, then to increase the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. To do this, you must look for ways to raise the red blood cell count and / or hemoglobin level. For some people, anemia is caused by more than one factor. The main causative factors of anemia are:
- Blood loss
- Inability to produce an adequate number of healthy red blood cells
- High rates of red blood cell destruction
- Lack of dietary iron
Treatments may include dietary changes or supplements, medicines, procedures, blood transfusion, or surgery to correct internal bleeding. Medications and treatments include supplements such as iron, antibiotics to treat infections, hormones to treat heavy menstrual bleeding, erythropoietin to stimulate the body to make more red blood cells, medicines to prevent the body's immune system from destroying its own red blood cells, and chelation .
- Be advised that medications affecting stomach acid, such as antacids, antihistamines, and proton pump inhibitors (ie: Zantac, Prilosec, Prevacid, Nexium, Pepcid) can interfere with iron absorption. Be sure to discuss any prescription or over the counter medications you are taking with your health care provider to avoid any possible interactions.
- Iron can also be taken with orange juice to help absorption.
As with all things, prevention is better than treatment, and prevention starts with awareness. To prevent anemia you must have enough red blood cells in your body to efficiently carry oxygen. A proper diet filled with iron rich, nutritious foods, healthy sleep patterns and exercise can help to keep your body producing adequate amounts of red blood cells.
Staying up to date on annual exams, along with documenting any troubling symptoms, can allow imbalances to be detected at their sunset. If you suspect anemia, a simple blood test called a CBC or Complete Blood Count, can give you the answer. This information will allow your health care provider to craft a treatment plan to restore your blood health.