Anaemia is a condition characterised by too little haemoglobin or too few red blood cells in the blood. It is considered a symptom of an underlying disease or condition rather than a disease itself.
Anaemia gives rise to the same general symptoms whatever the cause. A person leading a sedentary life may have a moderate degree of anaemia and yet be free of symptoms, though these develop if unaccustomed exercise is done. A degree of anaemia is always associated with an inability to make sustained physical effort. As anaemia often develops very slowly, the patient may gradually, unconsciously reduce physical activity to a lower level. It is not unusual to find anaemic women doing all the normal household chores, but slowly.
Common symptoms are: skin pallor, fatigue, weakness, fainting spells, breathlessness on exertion, palpitations, or increased awareness of your heartbeat, sore mouth or tongue, headache, lack of appetite, loss of hair and tingling in hands and feet.
There are three main causes of anaemia:
Loss of blood due to external (injury, bleeding piles, excessive menstruation) or internal (gastrointestinal: common causes being medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen, and cancer) bleeding;
Haemolysis, Le., increased destruction of blood cells, which may be due to the defect in the red blood cells or the circulating haemolytic agents;
Reduced or insufficient production of red blood cells, which may be due to an inadequate intake, absorption or utilisation of factors essential for blood formation.
The life of the red blood cells is 120 days and the bone marrow replaces them at a rate which enables their number to be maintained. For the production of red blood cells, many nutrients are needed. The most important of them being iron, vitamin B12 and folic acid.
It is unusual for anaemia to occur in a healthy person solely as a direct result of a poor diet. However the diet may have insufficient nutrients to meet the increased needs of a chronic problem. Disorders of the digestive system may also lead to impaired absorption of the essential nutrients resulting in anaemia.
The most common variety of anaemia throughout the world is the iron-deficiency anaemia. It mostly affects women in their reproductive years, infants and children.
Anaemia occurs when there is too little iron stored in the body. Young children and adults may not get enough absorbable iron in the foods they eat, which can lead to anaemia. The digestive system may not be able to absorb enough iron, or a person may become anaemic through excessive loss of blood; this can affect women with heavy menstrual periods, and people with stomach or duodenal ulcers, haemorrhoids or piles, or even hookworm infection.
Iron intake may be adequate in a diet consisting of cereals as a staple; the problem is that usually only 10 percent of the ingested iron is absorbed. This is because, the cereals, besides having a high iron content are also rich in phytates, which inhibit iron absorption. This problem is corrected by increasing the calcium content of the diet, by eating curds (or any other milk product) with the meals. Eating betel leaf Cpaan) with lime (choana) after a meal also helps in providing calcium. Insufficient intake of vitamin C is also a factor in the poor absorption of iron by the body. The age-old practice of squeezing lemon (nimbu) juice on the food and salads is a way of correcting this problem and thus enhancing the iron absorption.
Sweat also contains iron, therefore people living in hot conditions suffer from iron-deficiency more than their counterparts living in cooler areas.
If you suspect that you have anaemia, it is important to visit your doctor. Anaemia can weaken the body’s resistance to illness, and limits the energy and productivity levels. It can also indicate a more serious medical condition. It is important, therefore, to discover and treat the cause of anaemia.
- Make sure you include plenty of green, leafy vegetables in your diet: cooked, raw as salads or chutneys.
- Iron-fortified foods, like many breakfast cereals, can also boost iron reserves.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks coffee, tea, and colas during meals because they interfere with iron absorption.
- If you are a woman with heavy periods. or if you are pregnant, talk to your doctor about taking an iron supplement.
- Use an iron pot or karahi when cooking. Some iron from the pot will be incorporated into the food that is being cooked in it.