Iron Disorder Anemia

Anemia is the most common nutritional disorder on the planet. Causes of anemia vary, but all types of anemia have the same effect: a lack of iron-carrying hemoglobin in red blood cells prevents proper oxygen transportation through the body.

Causes of Anemia

Some types of anemia occur because the body cannot make enough hemoglobin, as is the case with iron deficiency anemia and pernicious anemia. Other types of anemia occur when the body makes sufficient hemoglobin, but it doesn’t function properly.

In aplastic anemia, the body cannot make enough red blood cells. Sickle cell anemia occurs when red bloods cells have abnormal characteristics.

Anemia Symptoms

Anemia symptoms aren’t usually immediately apparent, and often become worse as the disease progresses. Different types of anemia have unique symptoms, but certain anemia symptoms are typically present no matter what type of underlying anemia is present.

Common Anemia Symptoms

These symptoms appear in most types of anemia:

  • pale skin
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • irritability
  • low body temperature
  • numb/cold hands or feet
  • rapid heartbeat
  • shortness of breath
  • weakness
  • chest pain.

Types of Anemia

Different types of anemia have different causes and symptoms.

Iron Deficiency Anemia: Iron deficiency is one of the most common causes of anemia, especially in women. In the U.S. alone, twenty million women suffer from iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency causes insufficient hemoglobin production which, in turn, causes anemia and anemia symptoms.

Sickle Cell Anemia: Sickle cell anemia, or sickle cell disease, is one of the hereditary causes of anemia. Most often seen in people of African descent, sickle cell anemia is characterized by the production of rigid, sickle-shaped red blood cells. These abnormal sickle cells break down faster then normal red blood cells, resulting in a chronic shortage of red blood cells and anemia symptoms.

Sickle cell anemia is a form of hemolytic anemia, which describes types of anemia caused by the rapid destruction of red blood cells.

Pernicious Anemia: Certain types of anemia are referred to as megaloblastic, or vitamin deficiency anemia. Pernicious anemia is caused by an inability of the intestines to absorb sufficient amounts of vitamin B12, which is required in the production of red blood cells.

Pernicious anemia symptoms include vision problems, memory loss, difficulty walking and numb hands and feet, as well as the more common anemia symptoms.

Risk factors for pernicious anemia include a family history of pernicious anemia, Scandinavian or European ancestry or a history of autoimmune endocrine disorders.

Vitamin B12 injections are the standard pernicious anemia treatment. Oral vitamin B12 supplements may also be used as pernicious anemia treatment, but they’re not as efficient as B12 injections.

Folic Acid Deficiency Anemia: Folic acid deficiency anemia, like pernicious anemia, is a megaloblastic anemia. Folic acid is essential for healthy blood and a healthy nervous system. A folic acid deficiency during pregnancy can cause birth defects.

Folic acid supplements form the basis of folic acid anemia treatment. Anemia treatment also includes eating a diet high in folic acid, including such foods as:

  • beans and legumes
  • citrus fruits and juices
  • dark green leafy vegetables
  • pork
  • poultry
  • shellfish
  • wheat bran.

Thalassemia: Causes of anemia often include genetic mutations. Thalassemia is one of the genetically inherited types of anemia. Thalassemia occurs when the body’s genes, which are responsible for proper hemoglobin production, become damaged or mutated. Like sickle cell anemia, thalassemia is one of the hemolytic anemia types.

Many possible gene variations can cause thalassemia, and the disease has both mild and severe varieties. Cooley’s anemia is the most common severe thalassemia in the U.S. The disease tends to be present at birth and its symptoms include:

  • dark colored urine
  • deformed facial bones
  • fatigue
  • jaundice
  • poor growth rates
  • a swollen abdomen caused by an enlarged spleen and liver
  • weakness.

A number of ethnic groups are at higher risk of developing thalassemia, including people of African, Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Italian, Greek and Middle Eastern ethnicity.

Treatment for thalassemia depends on the severity of the disease. Mild types of thalassemia may be treated with regular blood transfusions. Severe cases require multiple blood transfusions, iron chelation therapy to remove excess iron from the blood and bone marrow transplants. Without treatment, severe thalassemia often proves fatal in early childhood.

Aplastic Anemia: Aplastic anemia is one of the rarer types of anemia, occurring when the body makes insufficient red and white blood cells. Causes of aplastic anemia include:

  • radiation therapy
  • chemotherapy
  • toxic chemicals
  • some medications

Follow the links for more information on iron deficiency anemia and sickle cell anemia.

Resources

Cleveland Clinic. (nd). Anemia.

National Library of Medicine. (updated 2004, September 11). Anemia. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.

National Library of Medicine. (updated 2004, January 16). Pernicious anemia. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.

U.S Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Human Health. (2004, March). Anemia. National Women’s Health Information Center.

U.S Department of Health and Human Services. (2003, September). What is thalassemia? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Wrong Diagnosis. (updated 2005, June 3). Basic summary for sickle cell anemia.

Wrong Diagnosis. (updated 2005, June 3). Symptoms of iron deficiency.

Wrong Diagnosis. (updated 2003, May 20). Types of anemia.