Anaemia: Sign of Nutritional Deficiency to Cancer

Posted by : Dr. B. Padate, 06 Nov 2012 05:10 AM
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Anaemia is a sign where there is a reduced level of haemoglobin and red cells in the blood. It is not a disease by itself but is a manifestation of another condition which can lead to something as simple as nutritional deficiency of iron to bowel cancer or blood cancer.
Blood cells are made by your bone marrow, which is a spongy substance in the centre of your bones. There is a constant process of production of new blood cells and the destruction of blood cells happening all the time. The balance between these processes is maintained such that the haemoglobin and other blood cells are kept in the normal range. Your blood is made up of fluid called plasma and blood cells. There are three major types of blood cells. 
  • Red blood cells (RBCs) that contain haemoglobin.
  • White blood cells (WBCs) are part of immune system and help fight infection.
  • Platelets that are tiny fragments of cells that help your blood clot.
Symptoms of anaemia 
Common anaemia symptoms include: 
  • Feeling tired 
  • Looking pale 
  • Increased breathlessness
  • Feeling your heart racing or thumping (called palpitations) 
Mild anaemia may have no signs or symptoms. If you do develop signs and symptoms, you may have tiredness, weakness, or pale or yellowish skin. These signs and symptoms also occur in more severe anaemia and are far more obvious. 

As anaemia gets worse, you also may experience faintness or dizzi¬ness, increased thirst, sweating, weak and rapid pulse, or fast breath¬ing. Severe anaemia may cause lower leg cramps during exercise, shortness of breath, or neurological (brain) damage. A lack of RBCs also may cause heart-related symptoms because your heart has to work harder to carry oxygen-rich blood through your body. If left untreated, it can lead to problems with your heart and lungs.

Remember, similar symptoms may be caused by problems other than anaemia. If you have any of these symptoms, consult a haematologist for advice.

There are many types of anaemia, and they are linked to a variety of diseases and conditions. Some types of anaemia are very common, and some are very rare. Some are very mild and have little or no impact on a person’s life. Some are severe and can even be life-threatening if not treated aggressively. All anaemias have one thing in common, though: They all affect your blood, and that affects your overall health. The good news is that anaemia often can be successfully treated or even prevented. 

Causes of anaemia 
Anaemia occurs when your body makes too few RBCs, destroys too many RBCs, or loses too many RBCs. Many diseases, conditions, and other factors can cause this to happen. 
Most fall into the following three groups. 
  • Reduced production of red blood cells and/or haemoglobin. This can happen if you don’t have enough iron, vitamin B12 or folate in your diet, or have health problems like problems related to food pipe that stop the absorption of nutrients. The production of red blood cells may be abnormal because of poor bone marrow function itself like aplastic anaemia or if bone marrow space is occupied by abnormal cells like cancer cells as in leukaemia. Patients with kidney problems also have reduced production of haemoglobin because of poor stimulation of the bone marrow. 
  • Bleeding. You can lose a lot of blood through an injury, an operation, from a stomach ulcer, or if you have prolonged or heavy periods. Small amount of bleeding from the stomach or colon everyday may not even be noticed by the patients. Bleeding from the bowel can be because of an underlying colon abnormality like colon cancer. 
  • Rapid destruction of red blood cells. Red blood cells usually survive for about 120 days before they are broken down and replaced by new red cells. Certain medicines can destroy the cells prematurely and cause anaemia, as can a number of inherited conditions such as sickle cell anaemia and thalasaemia.
In elderly population, a specific type of bone marrow abnormality called myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) exists, where bone marrow is defective and produces abnormal blood cells. Mostly, patients suffering from this condition also suffer from anaemia. This is a precancerous condition and treatments are available for this condition.  

Diagnosis of anaemia 
A Haematologist is a specialist in diagnosing anaemia and their causes. The Doctor will ask you about your symptoms and examine you. He or she may also ask about your medical history. You will then be asked to have a blood test. Your blood will be sent to a laboratory to be tested for the following:
  • A full blood count. This is to check the level of haemoglobin in your blood, how many of each of the different types of blood cells you have, the size of your red cells and the amount of haemoglobin in each red cell.
  • A blood film. Your blood will be looked at under a microscope to check the size and shape of your red blood cells and to assess the different white cells that are present. 
Depending on the findings from the above tests, your doctor will request further tests to ascertain the diagnosis of underlying causes of anaemia. If you’re deficient in iron, the doctor may also ask for a sample of stool to look for blood in the stool to determine if you have any bleeding from your stomach or bowel. This is called a stool for occult blood test.

Iron-Deficiency Anaemia 
Iron plays an essential role in keeping you healthy. Your body needs iron to make haemo¬globin, the protein in red blood cells (RBCs) that carries oxygen. 

Your body has a tightly controlled system for absorbing, using, and recycling iron. In this system, iron first goes to the bone marrow and is used to make red blood cells. Any extra iron that isn’t immediately needed for RBCs is stored in body tissues. At the end of their life spans, RBCs are destroyed and iron from these RBCs is re-circulated in the same way to produce new red cells. Most of the iron in your body is con¬stantly recycled and reused in this way. However, you lose a little iron every day through normal body processes. You need a regular source of iron to ensure that your body has enough to make the RBCs it needs. The main way you get iron is from food. 

Iron-deficiency anaemia is a condition in which your body can’t match its need for iron. This can happen if demands for iron are too high, if supplies of iron are too low, or if iron is lost from the body because of bleeding. 

Treatment of anaemia 
The anaemia treatment you have will depend on the cause of your anaemia and can vary considerably from person to person. For example, some people may need to adjust their diet and take supplements of iron, folic acid or vitamin B12, whereas others may need to have a blood transfusion. 

Prevention of anaemia 
You can reduce your risk of developing anaemia by eating a healthy, balanced diet. For most people this will provide enough essential nutrients without the need to take supplements. Iron rich diet is red meat, beet root, dates and lentils. 
The best sources of folate are green vegetables, peas, chickpeas and brown rice.

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