Despite being a widespread ailment, anemia is often misunderstood and mistaken with other conditions. It features signs and symptoms that you can find in several diseases, and it is usually a secondary medical condition caused by a given event or health issue.
In this article, you will find the essential information you need to understand anemia, the leading causes, symptoms, and medical management.
What is anemia?
Anemia is a decrease in hemoglobin levels in the blood, accompanied by a reduction in red blood cell mass. These cells provide oxygen to our tissues and eliminate carbon dioxide through the protein known as hemoglobin. Thus, a decrease in hemoglobin and red blood cells impairs our natural ability to exchange these gases and produce energy.
Anemia is sometimes considered a condition, especially when it has particular causes. But it is often interpreted as a sign of an underlying disease. To understand each case, it is essential to go through the causes of anemia.
Causes of anemia
Anemia is a reduction of red blood cells and hemoglobin. There’s a constant exchange of red blood cells through continuous production and elimination. Therefore, decreased production or increased elimination are likely causes of anemia. Another cause is blood loss, especially in trauma and after surgery.
Decreased production or increased elimination of red blood cells can be seen in the following health conditions:
- Genetic conditions: They usually feature defective red blood cells or defective manufacturing or elimination processes. For example, in hemoglobinopathies where hemoglobin proteins are abnormal. Enzyme abnormalities, thalassemia, Fanconi anemia, and cytoskeleton defects are all due to genetic alterations. They all cause anemia through different mechanisms.
- Nutritional problems: Defective production of red blood cells is often caused by a nutrient deficit in otherwise healthy patients. Iron, vitamin B12, and folate are essential to creating these cells. Thus, a deficiency of either nutrient will likely cause a type of anemia. Anemia is expected in case of malnutrition and starvation.
- Causes of blood loss: Trauma is the most common cause of blood loss. Another cause is burning or surgical bleeding.
- Chronic ailments: Anemia is also common in a variety of chronic and degenerative diseases. Anemia is often included as a sign of hepatic disease, renal disease, and collagen vascular diseases. Cancer often features anemia, especially when the tumor is constantly bleeding or causing gastrointestinal obstructions and absorption problems.
- Infectious causes: A variety of bacterial, viral, and protozoal organisms often lead to anemia. For example, the hepatitis virus, mononucleosis, leishmaniasis, malaria, and Clostridia bacteria.
- Drug side effects: Cancer therapy is the most important drug-related cause of anemia. We should also highlight exposure to arsenic and benzene, and other toxins as a cause of anemia.