What is anemia?
Anemia is a condition that affects your body’s red blood cells and diminishes your body’s ability to transport oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the cells in your body. Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen, and people with anemia do not have enough of this protein. There are many reasons why you could be anemic, and hematologists are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of anemias.
What are the symptoms of anemia?
Often times patients with anemia do not have any symptoms but, rather, an anemia is discovered on a routine blood test. The classic symptoms of anemia are
- feeling tired or fatigued
- pale discoloration of the skin or the bottom portion of the eyelids
- shortness of breath during exercise
- cold hands and feet
- brittle nails or hair loss
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- pica, which is a craving for substances that are non-nutritive, such as clay, metal, soil, or sand
How is an anemia diagnosed?
A very common an inexpensive test called a CBC (complete blood count) is used to diagnose an anemia. This will measure your hemoglobin level and if it falls below a normal threshold, you have an anemia. A “normal” level of hemoglobin can vary depending on your age, race, gender, and other medical conditions. Your hematologist will then perform a more detailed investigation into what is causing your anemia.
What causes an anemia?
There are three main causes of anemia:
- Your body is not making sufficient quantities of hemoglobin. This can be due to a deficiency iron, vitamin B12, folate. There are also several chronic medical conditions that also suppress your body’s capacity to make hemoglobin. Examples of these conditions are chronic kidney disease, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and thyroiditis.
- Your body is losing blood. Women who have heavy menstrual cycles, or patients who have stomach ulcers or internal bleeding can lose large amounts of blood in very short periods of time and develop an anemia. Gastritis and cancers of the digestive tract can cause patients to lose small quantities of blood over the course of many months and develop an anemia.
- Your body is destroying blood cells. This is a rare but potentially fatal form of anemia.
How is anemia treated?
The first step in treating an anemia is discovering what is causing the anemia, which is the specialty of a hematologist.
- Hematologists have been strong advocates of reserving blood transfusions for select patients with severe anemias that are showing severe symptoms due to their anemia. In most occasions, hematologists can treat anemias without having to order blood transfusions.
- If there is a deficiency of iron – your hematologist may recommend that you take iron pills. Often times patient’s cannot tolerate the side effects of iron by mouth, in which case your hematologist could order a dose of intravenous iron.
- Certain patients with chronic anemias may require injection of a hormone called erythropoietin to correct their anemia
If you have questions or would like to schedule a consultation with a Woodlands Hematologist, please request more information or call to 696-4000 to schedule an appointment.