Disease at a Glance: Anaemia
Anaemia is a blood disorder that occurs when there aren’t enough red blood cells or when the quantum of haemoglobin is inadequate. Red blood cell or RBC is a blood component that transports oxygen throughout the body. And haemoglobin is the oxygen-carrying protein inside the RBC. So, if there’s a deficit in the number of RBCs or in the amount of haemoglobin, the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood gets compromised. That is to say, the body doesn’t get enough oxygen to meet the physiological needs of the human body.
There are three major reasons why anaemia may occur – excessive loss of blood (acutely on account of a haemorrhage or chronically through low volume loss); inadequate production of red blood cells; and, excessive destruction of red blood cells. Anaemia can go undetected for long periods, as the symptoms can be minor or vague. The most common complaint of patients suffering from anaemia is weakness, fatigue and general malaise. Another characteristic of anaemia is pale skin colour.
Normal Haemoglobin Levels
|Children (0.5 to 5 years): 11.0 gm|
|Children (5 to 12 years): 11.5 gm|
|Adolescents (12 to 15 years): 12 gm|
|Men: 14.5 gm|
|Women: 12 gm|
|Pregnant Women: 11 gm|
Because the blood’s oxygen carrying capacity is no longer able to meet the normal demand of oxygen by various tissues, the body is forced to adopt compensatory steps such as reducing the absorption of oxygen or augmenting the cardiac output by increased pumping of the heart. The net effect of this is breathlessness, palpitation and, in serious cases, heart failure.
The commonest type of anaemia is iron deficiency anaemia. Iron is a crucial component of the red blood cell – without iron, the blood cannot carry oxygen effectively. Normally, we get all the iron we need from our diet. But if for some reason the body can’t get enough iron because of malnourishment or cannot absorb enough iron because of some disease or underlying condition, iron-deficiency anaemia occurs. Iron deficiency anaemia can also occur in pregnancy.
Treatment of anaemia depends on the cause of the disease. In nutritional iron deficiency anaemia, doctors may prescribe iron supplements along with diet changes. In severe cases, blood transfusion is indicated. For example, anaemia on account of excessive blood loss is treated through blood transfusion.
Or take the case of thalassemia, a type of blood disorder that’s hereditary in nature. Patients suffer from severe anaemia because of defective synthesis of haemoglobin and the only available treatment is frequent blood transfusion.
1. World Health Organization (www.who.int)
2. US National Library of Medicine (www.nlm.nih.gov)
3. National Anaemia Action Council (www.anaemia.org)