In today's health-conscious world where people are turning vegan or vegetarian left and right, the subject of anemia is a common one. I, like most people upon hearing mention of the disease, used to associate it solely with a lack of Iron. However, this is a common misconception: it turns out there’s more than one type of deficiency related to the disease. In fact, there are around seven known types of anemia, and today we’ll be discussing them in detail.
Most people have experienced fatigue, muscle weakness, and shortness of breath at some point in their lives. These are symptoms that can be attributed to a number of outside factors, often remedied by healthy diet and exercise. However, if these symptoms persist, you may want to talk to your doctor, or be tested for anemia.
At it’s most basic definition, anemia is a condition in which your blood has a lower than normal number of red blood cells (RBC’s), or is lacking in the protein hemoglobin. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, anemia is the most common blood disorder, affecting more than 3 million Americans.
Our red blood cells contain proteins called hemoglobin, which inside of those contain the iron molecule. Oxygen binds to iron and thus gets transported to various parts of the body via the blood stream. However, if your RBC count is lower than normal, your body is not going to get enough oxygen. This lack of oxygen often results in fatigue and in a number of other health issues, which I’ll discuss below. The same goes for hemoglobin deficiency. Without hemoglobin—or enough iron—your tissues and organs cannot receive a healthy amount of oxygen.
The basics: This is the most common type of anemia, caused by iron-deficiency. While both men and women are susceptible, women who are either pregnant or of child-rearing age are at a higher risk for iron-deficiency anemia due to the demands of the growing fetus during pregnancy or blood loss during menstruation.
Causes: Inadequate absorption of iron, excessive loss of iron, increased iron requirement, or insufficient intake of iron. Gastrointestinal losses, such as those that occur from malignancy or ulcerations, can also contribute to this type of anemia.
- Feeling extreme fatigue or weakness
-Headaches, dizziness, or lightheadedness when standing
-Shortness of breath
-Suffering from frequent infections
-Cold hands and feet
-Weak, brittle nails
-Restless leg syndrome
Treatments: If you are experiencing Iron-Deficiency Anemia, your first step to recovery should be to incorporate a healthy diet. You can increase your intake of iron by eating foods such as milk, meat, fish, eggs, and leafy greens, as well as iron-fortified cereals. You may also take iron supplements, however, it is important that you speak with your doctor beforehand, as too much iron in the blood can also cause health problems. If your condition persists, your doctor may prescribe medication.
The basics: Megaloblastic anemia is characterized by RBC’s that are abnormally large (megaloblasts) and low in number. RBC’s that are too large may not be able to exit the bone marrow to enter the bloodstream and deliver oxygen.
Causes: Inadequate intake of Vitamin B12 or Folate, two nutrients are essential to proper RBC production. May also be caused by drugs that alter gastric secretion or are used to treat cancer.
-Shortness of breath
-Abnormal paleness of skin
-Loss of appetite/weight loss
-Smooth or tender tongue
-Tingling in hands and feet
-Numbness of extremities
Treatments: The treatments for Megaloblastic Anemia depend on the cause. If you are vitamin B12 deficient, you can start by incorporating B12 rich foods into your diet, such as chicken, eggs, fortified cereals, red meat, milk, and shellfish. If the condition persists, you may need monthly B12 injections or oral supplements prescribed by your doctor. Megaloblastic anemia that is caused by lack of folate can be remedied by boosting folate levels via oral or intravenous folic acid supplements. Including foods rich in folate such as oranges, leafy green vegetables, peanuts, lentils and enriched grains into your diet can also help boost folate levels.
The Basics: Pernicious Anemia is a type of Megaloblastic Anemia in which RBC’s are not only abnormally large, but also underdeveloped. This malformation causes the bone marrow to produce fewer RBC’s.
Causes: Insufficient B12 absorption, caused by a lack of Intrinsic Factor (IF) in stomach secretions which is needed for the body to absorb vitamin B12.
In rare cases, symptoms can be neurological:
-Numbness in arms or legs
-Progressive lesions in spinal chord
Treatments: Your doctor will prescribe B12 injections. Over time, the injections will be decreased, and your doctor may recommend regular doses of B12 supplements. Many people with Pernicious Anemia require lifelong treatment and monitoring.
The Basics: Also called Acute Blood Loss Anemia, Hemorrhagic Anemia is caused by massive bleeding through wounds or other lesions, resulting in an excessive decrease in RBC’s.
Causes: Large blood losses caused by traumatic or life-threatening injuries that dramatically reduce the amount of RBC’s in the body.
- Pale, moist skin
-Rapid heart rate
-Abnormally low blood pressure
-Increased respiratory rate
-Rapid onset of fever
Treatments: To treat Hemorrhagic anemia your doctor should take measures to stop blood loss immediately and restore blood volume through an IV administration of saline, dextran, albumin, or plasma. For large blood losses, s/he may administer a blood transfusion. The anemia itself will not need to be treated so long as blood levels are restored, unless the anemia is associated with iron, folate, or B12 deficiency.
The Basics: Hemolytic Anemia occurs when RBC’s are destroyed and removed from the bloodstream before their normal lifespan ends, and the bone marrow cannot make enough RBC’s to compensate. Hemolytic anemia can be extrinsic or intrinsic.
Causes: Many diseases, conditions, and outside factors can cause Hemolytic Anemia. Extrinsic Hemolytic Anemia occurs when the spleen traps and destroys RBC’s. It can also arise from RBC destruction due to a number of illnesses and some medications. Intrinsic Hemolytic Anemia occurs when the RBC’s in one’s body are defective. This condition is usually inherited, and usually affects more African-Americans than Caucasians.
-Unusually pale skin
-Enlarged liver or spleen
Treatments: If you are diagnosed with Hemolytic Anemia, your doctor may suggest a blood transfusion to increase RBC count, administer an IV immunoglobulin to improve the function of your immune system, or prescribe corticosteroid medication. In severe cases, the spleen may need to be surgically removed.
The Basics: Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder in which there are less RBC’s and hemoglobin in the blood than normal. RBC’s are small, pale, and short-lived. There are several types of Thalassemia, but the three main types are alpha-thalassemia, beta-thalassemia, and thalassemia minor. Each depend on whether or not one or both of the afflicted’s parents passed on the defective gene.
Causes: Mutations in the DNA of cells that create hemoglobin, usually passed from parents to children.
-Bone deformities, particularly in the face
-Delayed growth and development
-Yellow or pale skin
Treatments: Treatments for Thalassemia depend on the type and severity of the disease. Blood transfusions, bone marrow transplants, medications and supplements, and surgery to remove the gallbladder or spleen are all possible treatments.
The Basics: Occurs when bone marrow is damaged, slowing or shutting down the production of new RBC’s.
Causes: In recorded cases of aplastic anemia the causes vary, and in some cases the cause is unknown. Radiation exposure and chemotherapy treatments, exposure to toxic chemicals, certain medications such as those used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and some antibiotics, autoimmune disorders, viral infections, and very rarely, pregnancy, can all cause aplastic anemia.
-Shortness of breath
-Irregular heart rate
-Frequent or prolonged infections
-Nosebleeds or bleeding gums
Treatments: Depending on the severity of the disease, your doctor may require frequent visits to monitor the disease, blood transfusions, or bone marrow transplants.
Anemias can be caused by a wide range of deficiencies, ranging from the natural (menstruation) to unnatural (megaloblasts). Diet and adding supplements like Iron, B12 or folate can help minimize the effects of anemia and prevent further complications.
If you suspect that you have any one type of anemia, it is important that you have your blood tested for low levels of Iron, Ferritin, TIBC and Vitamin B-12. MYLABFAX offers a full-range Anemia Screening that tests of each one of these essential elements in the blood. Your results can also help guide your physician to quickly narrow in on the main problem and begin treatment.