Determining if an individual has anemia can be a challenge. The symptoms are often subtle or vary depending on the underlying cause. At the same time, the body is capable of amending well to the gradually emerging anemia to further conceal the indications.
Anemia is characterized by low red blood cells or the amount of hemoglobin in each red cell is too low. The bone marrow is responsible for producing large amounts of red blood cells on a daily basis to continuously replace the older ones in the bloodstream that are taken away from wear or tear or due to normal loss such as during menstruation. Remember that every normal red blood cell contains hemoglobin which is the oxygen-carrying protein that requires steady supply of iron from the diet for normal synthesis. There are various causes of anemia which includes the following:
- Iron deficiency
- Vitamin B deficiency
- Bone marrow failure
- Immune disorders
- Chronic and genetic disorders such as sickle cell anemia and thalassemia
Depending on the underlying cause, the condition leads to diminished level of oxygen being delivered from the lungs to the muscles, heart and other organs. The reduced supply of oxygen leads to the development of the symptoms of anemia.
Signs and symptoms of anemia
Recognizing the indications of slowly developing or mild anemia can be impossible to detect. Most cases of anemia are usually discovered by accident on the laboratory tests performed for other reasons. Once the condition worsens, the individual will start to notice symptoms such as the following:
- Shortness of breath
- Lack of energy
- Cold hands and feet
- Concentration difficulties
Take note that some of these symptoms only occur during exercise initially but can manifest even while at rest as the blood count continues to drop. Anemia can affect individuals of all ages but the risk for becoming anemic is higher if the individual is on a limited diet low in iron or other essential vitamins. Other possible factors include being pregnant, blood loss due to heavy periods and chronic diseases such as kidney disease, diabetes or cancer.
When to consult a doctor
A doctor should be consulted if an individual is suspected with anemia. Since the symptoms are often mild and non-specific, establishing the existence of anemia necessitates medical assessment.
A detailed medical history can uncover possible risk factors such as family history, chronic infection, certain medications, intestinal illnesses or dietary concerns. Physical checkup can also establish some of the indications and disclose other signs such as rapid erratic heartbeat, pale skin or heart murmur.
A diagnosis of the condition is confirmed by a complete blood count (CBC). During this test, several measurements using the same blood sample is carried out which includes the amount of red blood cells along with their shape, size and amount of hemoglobin.
Based on the results of the test, further testing involves examination of a thin smear of blood under a microscope to check for changes in the cell.