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Oftentimes doctors do not diagnose anemia until they run blood tests as part of a routine physical exam. A complete blood count measures levels of red blood cells and hemoglobin in your blood. Other tests may include a blood smear exam, iron tests, and bone marrow aspiration and biopsy. Your doctor may also ask about your symptoms and if you have a family history of anemia, as these factors may determine whether you need to undergo more testing.

Left unchecked, anemia can lead to a rapid or irregular heartbeat and, in very serious cases, congestive heart failure. Certain types of anemia can also lead to nerve damage and impaired brain function. If you've been diagnosed with anemia, ask your doctor what treatment is necessary, as yours will depend on the cause of your anemia.

Iron deficiency anemia is usually treated with medication, as well as a recommendation to add iron-rich foods to your diet. In addition, birth control pills are often prescribed to treat iron deficiency anemia in women, as they may be able to help regulate the menstrual cycle and control the amount of bleeding. If anemia is traced to a lack of folic acid or vitamins, supplements may be prescribed. Anemia caused by an infection will usually improve when the infection is treated. More severe or chronic forms of anemia may require transfusions of normal red blood cells from a donor, medications to prevent blood cells from being removed from circulation or destroyed prematurely, bone marrow transfusions, or medications to stimulate bone marrow to make more blood cells.

There are many forms of anemia that simply can't be prevented. For example, there is (currently) no way to prevent anemia due to genetic defects affecting the production of red blood cells. There are, however, some things you can do to avoid iron deficiency and vitamin deficiency anemias. Start by maintaining a healthy diet of foods rich in iron (beef, beans, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, nuts), folate (citrus fruits and juices, fortified cereals), and vitamin B-12 (meat, dairy products). Foods that contain vitamin C (citrus fruits) also help your body absorb iron.

Talk to your doctor if you're feeling especially tired for reasons you can't explain. Some kinds of anemia are common, like iron deficiency anemia, but don't assume you are anemic just because you're extra sleepy. Your fatigue could be a symptom of any number of other medical conditions. If you have a family history of anemia, ask your doctor or a genetic counselor about your risk and what risks you may pass on to your children.

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Featured Sites:

Cord Blood Registry
March of Dimes
Susan G. Komen

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