Fatigue May Point to Anemia

Anemia, the most common blood disorder, affects more than 3 million Americans, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. There are variations in anemia from mild to severe and from temporary to long term. Additionally, there are many forms of anemia, each with its own specific cause. Iron-deficiency anemia, which occurs when the body cannot manufacture adequate numbers of red blood cells, is caused by blood loss or insufficient iron in the diet. Pernicious anemia, with similar inadequacy of red blood cells, results from the body’s inability to absorb vitamin B12. Folic acid-deficiency anemia, with similar inadequate production of red blood cells, results from insufficient dietary folic acid, the body’s inability to utilize folic acid, or from an illness.

Hemolytic anemia, in which the body breaks down red blood cells too quickly, can result from harmful substances, inherited or acquired diseases causing deformity in red blood, cells or from a reaction to certain drugs. Sickle cell anemia, most commonly occurring in blacks, is an inherited disease in which blood cells become sickle-shaped. It is characterized by hemoglobin’s failure to work correctly because the red blood cells’ shape causes them to clog blood vessels and break down easily.

People at increased risk for developing anemia include those with inadequate diets, chronic diseases, infections, intestinal disorders and other conditions. At highest risk are women who are menstruating or pregnant and people with chronic medical conditions. Additionally, risk increases among older adults. People with chronic conditions, such as liver or kidney disease, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune disease, thyroid disease or inflammatory bowel disease, may be at increased risk for developing anemia.

Although the primary symptoms of anemia are likely to be fatigue or a lack of energy, the condition can also produce symptoms such as headache, shortness of breath, fast or irregular heartbeat, pale skin or lightheadedness. In the early stages of anemia, symptoms may be so subtle that you may not be aware of them. But their severity is likely to increase over time. If you experience significant fatigue or weakness, consult your provider to determine the cause. Fatigue can result from a number of underlying conditions, so it can’t be assumed that anemia is to blame. Together with your provider, you can develop a treatment plan.

Anemia treatment is dependent upon its cause. Blood loss is nearly always the cause of iron-deficiency anemia. If that is suspected, your provider may order tests to determine the source of blood loss. Nutrition-related anemias can result from a poor diet or inadequate absorption of vitamins. Altering dietary habits or taking dietary supplements may correct the problem. If a chronic medical condition is causing anemia, treating the underlying disease may help to improve anemia.

Some types of anemia cannot be prevented. However, iron- and vitamin-deficiency anemias may be prevented by adopting dietary habits that include a variety of vitamins and minerals, including iron, contained in green leafy vegetables, beans, and iron-fortified cereals; folate, found in fruits, kidney beans, enriched grain products, and peanuts; vitamin B12, contained in meat, dairy products and soy products; and vitamin C, found in citrus fruits, broccoli, tomatoes, melons, peppers and strawberries.

If you believe you may be at risk for developing anemia, talk with your provider. He or she can determine the best treatments, and if necessary, can refer you to a hematologist, a specialist in blood disorders.

Author
Ithaca Primary Care

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