If you’re constantly feeling tired or breathless or if you feel like your heart is racing, then it may be time to have a blood test to check for anaemia.
What is anaemia?
Red blood cells contain a protein called haemoglobin. This protein not only makes your blood red but also carries oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. Iron plays an important role in the production of haemoglobin.
Anaemia happens when you don’t have enough red blood cells to carry sufficient oxygen around your body. When that vital oxygen delivery doesn’t reach your body’s cells and tissues, you may lack the energy to get through your day.
There are many different types of anaemia. Some are linked to your stage of life or diet, while others are connected to a number of different chronic conditions. Some types of anaemia are short-lived and respond well to lifestyle changes. Other types may last far longer and have more serious consequences.
If you’ve developed anaemia, you may feel:
- Tired for no apparent reason
- Dizzy or light-headed
- Out of breath, even when you’re doing easy things
- Like your heart is racing or beating irregularly.
Your hands or feet may also be cold and you may notice that you look paler than usual.
In children, anaemia may show itself as tiredness or lethargy. It may also show itself as delayed development of motor skills or difficulties in learning.
What causes anaemia?
Anaemia has several potential causes.
Iron deficiency anaemia
The most common cause of anaemia is iron deficiency. Your body can’t make iron so it relies on you eating enough iron-rich foods. Iron is vital to the production of red blood cells and haemoglobin, which carries oxygen around your body.
You may develop iron deficiency anaemia because you:
- Aren’t eating enough iron-rich foods such as red meats, fish, eggs, oats, iron-fortified bread and cereals, nuts and dried fruits, or dark, leafy greens like spinach and broccoli
- Have an underlying condition like coeliac disease that reduces your ability to absorb iron
- Have a genetic condition like thalassaemia
- Lose blood (and therefore iron) due to conditions such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or stomach ulcers or through being a regular blood donor.
Iron deficiency anaemia in women and children
Iron deficiency anaemia affects 30% of women of childbearing age. In addition to the causes above, that’s because women may:
- Experience blood loss caused by heavy periods
- Be pregnant, which increases the demand for iron.
Children grow at an amazing pace from birth to toddlerhood and their iron needs continually increase. Babies absorb iron relatively easily from breast milk or formula but may get less iron than needed when they start to eat solid food. Iron isn’t absorbed as easily from solid food and, in any case, it’s not always easy to make toddlers and young children eat a healthy, varied diet.
Other causes of anaemia
Other types of anaemia include:
- Inflammatory anaemia – caused by diseases such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease or Crohn’s disease which interfere with the production of red blood cells.
- Bone marrow-associated anaemias – cancers like leukemia and myelofibrosis can affect blood production in your bone marrow and cause anaemia. That may be mild or life-threatening.
- Sickle cell anemia – an inherited condition where red blood cells take on an abnormal crescent (sickle) shape then die prematurely causing a chronic shortage of red blood cells.
- Aplastic anemia – in rare cases, infections, certain medicines, autoimmune diseases and exposure to toxic chemicals can stop your body from producing enough red blood cells
- Hemolytic anemias – your body destroys red blood cells faster than your bone marrow can replace them.
Who is at risk of developing anaemia?
Anaemia can affect:
- Anyone who isn’t getting enough dietary iron, from infants to seniors
- People living with chronic conditions
- Older people – who are often more likely both to lack dietary iron and to live with one or more chronic conditions
- Women who have heavy periods or are pregnant.
How do you treat anaemia?
Treatment for anaemia depends on what’s causing it.
Treatment for iron deficiency anaemia
Iron deficiency anaemia is usually treated by eating more iron-rich foods and taking iron supplements.
Your doctor may also recommend an iron infusion, a 30-minute procedure where you receive iron directly into your bloodstream through a drip.
If your doctor suspects that blood loss is causing your iron deficiency, then you may be referred for more tests and procedures. That may involve treatment to relieve heavy periods or procedures such as an endoscopy or colonoscopy to check for any bleeding in your digestive system.
Treatment for other causes of anaemia
Treating other causes of anaemia often forms part of treating the underlying condition causing it.
Depending on the condition, treatment may include supplements and medicines, vitamin shots, blood transfusions, hormone injections, bone marrow transplants, chemotherapy, and immuno-suppressant drugs.
How Moonee Valley Specialist Centre can help
Moonee Valley Specialist Centre treats many people with anaemia.
Depending on your needs, we can conduct exploratory procedures to check the health of your digestive system and locate any slow bleeding that may be triggering your anaemia.
We also provide iron infusions at our Essendon clinic. These can be a very helpful way of addressing iron deficiency anaemia. As your iron levels start to rise in the weeks after the infusion, you should hopefully notice that you have more energy and improved muscle strength and are thinking more clearly again.
If you’d like help identifying or treating anaemia, please book an appointment today.
*All information is general in nature and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. See a doctor if you experience a persistent change in bowel habits or if you have signs and symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.