Anemia is one of the most common blood disorders, occurring when the level of healthy red blood cells in your body becomes too low. Red blood cells are vital to good health because they contain hemoglobin, which is responsible for carrying oxygen to your body's tissues. If there aren't enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your tissues, it can cause a variety of complications, including fatigue and stress on your organs.
The most common symptom of most forms of anemia is fatigue. Other early signs might include unusually pale skin and decreased pinkness of the lips and nail beds, but these changes happen gradually, so they may be difficult to notice. Other symptoms of anemia include weakness, irritability, chest pain, shortness of breath, headache, dizziness, and a rapid heartbeat.
There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. To understand them, however, you must first understand what blood is made up of. White blood cells fight infection, platelets help your blood clot after a cut, and red blood cells, as you know, carry oxygen from your lungs to your brain and other organs and tissues. They also carry carbon dioxide from other parts of your body to your lungs so it can be exhaled. In order for red blood cells to produce hemoglobin, your body needs iron, protein and vitamins. Common types of anemia include:
Iron deficiency anemia. The most common form of anemia - iron deficiency anemia - affects about one in five women, half of pregnant women and three percent of men in the United States. As its name implies, this form of anemia is caused by a shortage of iron in a person's body. Without the proper amount of iron, your body can't produce enough hemoglobin for red blood cells, resulting in iron deficiency anemia.
When blood cells die, the iron in them is recycled and used to produce new blood cells. So each time you lose blood, you lose iron. Women with very heavy periods are at risk of iron deficiency anemia. Blood loss from a source within the body, such as an ulcer or a colon polyp, can also lead to iron loss and iron deficiency anemia. Other people at risk include those with diets low in iron, and pregnant women, as a growing fetus can deplete a mother's store of iron.
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