Anemia: At a glance
What is anemia
|Red blood cells (RBC)||4.7 to 6.1 million cells/mcL||4.2 to 5.4 million cells/mcL|
|Hemoglobin (Hgb)||13.8 to 18.0 g/dL (8.6 to 11.2 mmol/L)||12.1 to 15.1 g/dL (7.5 to 9.4 mmol/L)|
|Hematocrit (Hct)||42 - 52%||37 - 46%|
What's inside blood?
What are the symptoms of anemia?
- Hemolytic anemias are a group of diseases in which the red blood cells are destroyed prematurely. When hemoglobin within red blood cells is broken down, the center rings of the protein (called heme) are converted into bilirubin. We usually get rid of bilirubin through urine/stool, but if there is too much of it floating around, then it can build up in the body and cause the skin to turn yellow (aka. jaundice).
- In iron-defiency anemia, the body is not able to make hemoglobin effectively since each heme contains a bit of iron within it. Patients lacking iron sometimes get the strange urge to eat things like dirt, sand, or ice as a result.
- In pregnant women, the blood gets diluted as blood volume goes up but the number of red blood cells stay the same. This form of "dilutional anemia" is common, and the increased blood volume can cause heart palpitations (that feeling of your heart skipping a beat).
- Patients with sickle cell anemia have red blood cells that are deformed and don't sail smoothly through blood vessels. When these red blood cells clog up blood vessels it can lead to intense pain in the bones or chest.
What causes anemia?
|Decreased production of RBCs||aplastic anemia , folic acid deficiency, iron deficiency anemia, kidney disease, leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome, thalassemia, pernicious anemia (vitamin B12 deficiency), chronic diseases (e.g. HIV, Crohn's disease, etc...)|
|Increased destruction of RBCs||glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency, hemolytic anemia, sickle cell anemia, transfusion reactions|
|Loss of RBCs (bleeding)||gastrointestinal ulcers, major injuries or surgery, menstruation|
|Dilution of RBCs (fluid overload)||pregnancy|
How likely are you to get anemia?
- Iron deficiency anemia makes up for half of all anemias globally and is more common in women due to their menstrual cycle.
- Sickle cell anemia affects 1 in 100 people in Africa, but 1 in 3000 in the United States. This is because sickle cell anemia is a genetic disease found in people of African heritage.
- Vegetarians/vegans have an increased risk for iron deficiency anemia and vitamin B12 deficiency anemias because animal products contain these nutrients.
- Pregnant women have increased iron and vitamin needs to help their fetus grow and are at an increased risk for iron, folate, and vitamin B12 deficiencies.
- Alcohol impairs the ability of the liver to metabolize folate leading to folate deficiency anemia in alcoholics.
How can you prevent anemia?
How do you treat anemia?
Consider the following:
- You may have noticed that men have more red blood cells and hemoglobin in a given volume of blood than women. Why do you think that might be? Scientists are not sure yet, but one hypothesis is that higher testosterone levels in men stimulates red blood cell production.
- Some athletes have been found "blood doping", by using products like the hormone erythropoietin before a major event. Why would they do that? One reason is that erythropoietin (normally made in the kidney) is a hormone that helps to boost the production of RBC's. Injecting extra erythropoietin means that more RBC's are made, which means more oxygen is carried to muscles with each heart beat during the event. Blood doping is considered cheating in most sports, and it's dangerous to the athlete because rapidly getting too many RBCs increases the thickness of blood, which can lead to heart failure and stroke!