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The Basics of Anemia

By Brianna Elliott

“Anemia” refers to a condition where there are not enough red blood cells in the body for it to function normally.  Red blood cells are important because they carry oxygen throughout the body as well as remove a waste product, carbon dioxide from it.  There is more than one type of anemia, and they’re all caused by a vitamin or mineral deficiency.

First of all, there is iron deficiency anemia.  It is a condition that occurs when there is not enough iron in the blood.  Iron is needed to build red blood cells, and when there isn’t enough your body uses stored iron.  Once that iron is gone, fewer red blood cells are made that have less hemoglobin that normal.  It can be caused from blood loss, poor diet or the intestine’s inability to absorb iron from foods properly.  Iron deficiency anemia is common and easily treated, but it’s important to detect it sooner than later.    The condition is accompanied by several unpleasant symptoms, such as: weakness, fatigue, impaired cognition, headache, vertigo, heartburn, irritability, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, chest pain, heart palpitations, tingling of the extremities, etc…These are just some of the symptoms that can be caused by iron deficiency anemia.   The condition can be diagnosed from a blood test that looks for decreased cell hemoglobin and several other factors that indicate low iron.  Treatment always depends on the severity of the anemia, but may include dietary chances, medicines or even surgery.  To get enough iron in your diet, you should eat enough meat, eggs, leafy green vegetables and iron-fortified foods.

There is also something called vitamin B12 anemia.  This is common among vegetarians and the elderly, because they may not eat enough meat or their intestines may not have the ability to absorb the vitamin.  Vitamin B12 is needed to build red blood cells, along with iron.  When there isn’t enough, cells cannot be made in proper amounts.  B12 can be found in eggs, milk and cheese which most people don’t have a hard time eating enough of, but there are a select few that do.  As the anemia progresses, one will feel weak, tired and lightheaded.  They may also have pale looking skin or feel sick to their stomach, resulting in weight loss.  If vitamin B12 deficiency has been a problem for a long time, it can damage nerve cells resulting in numbness or tingling of the fingers or toes, a poor sense of balance, dementia or depression.  It can be diagnosed with a blood test that checks your vitamin B12 levels.  The condition can be treated with supplements and changes of diet.

Folic acid deficiency anemia is another type.  It can be caused by a number of factors that include poor diet, pregnancy, alcoholism, malabsorption or renal dialysis.  Folic acid is another B vitamin that helps to build healthy red blood cells.  A person deficiency in folic acid may feel weak and tired, lightheaded, forgetful or cranky.  They may also lose weight and have trouble concentrating.  Blood tests also test for folic acid deficiency anemia.  It can be treated with supplements and diet changes.  To keep your folic acid levels healthy, you should eat plenty of leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits and fortified breads and cereals.  It is extremely important that pregnant women get enough folic acid because it helps to prevent birth defects.  Their folic acid levels are checked frequently and they are often recommended to take a supplement. 

If you have any of the symptoms that were listed with the descriptions of the conditions, you should talk to a doctor before diagnosing yourself.  The symptoms do not only indicate anemia so it’s important to have your blood checked first.  Always discuss supplements with your doctor as well.

About the Author

Brianna Elliott is a third year dietetics student.  She also writes articles for - a website which carries Feosol - an iron supplement designed to prevent and treat iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia.  Brianna believes that it’s important for people to learn about anemia because it is a common condition that often goes untreated.


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