Anemia happens when your blood does not have enough red blood cells to properly carry oxygen to your organs and tissues. Because your body doesn't get enough oxygen, you feel tired -- one of the primary symptoms of anemia.
Your blood contains three types of cells -- white blood cells, which fight off infection; platelets, which help blood to clot; and red blood cells, which carry oxygen from your lungs throughout your body. Red blood cells are made in your bone marrow. They contain hemoglobin, an iron-based protein that helps blood cells carry oxygen. With anemia, your body eitherdoesn't make enough red blood cells or loses them faster than they can be replaced.
There are several types of anemia. The most common type is iron deficiency anemia, caused by a lack of iron in your body. Other types include:
Symptoms of anemia can be mild at first, and can be mistaken for other symptoms of other conditions. They include:
Anemia may have the following causes:
Anemia is often caused by another disease. Your doctor will draw blood and run lab tests, including a complete blood count (CBC) that measures the amount of red blood cells and hemoglobin in your blood. If you are anemic, your doctor may run more tests to see what type of anemia you have.
What's causing your anemia -- and how serious it is -- will determine your treatment. Your doctor may suggest changes in your diet to make sure you get all the nutrients you need, such as vitamin B12, iron, and folic acid. Your doctor may also suggest nutritional supplements or medication. If your anemia is due to an underlying disease, your doctor will treat that disease.
Most often, anemia is caused by a lack of iron or vitamins. Making changes in your diet or taking supplements usually help. You should, however, find out from your doctor what's causing your anemia. For example, too much iron is toxic, and you should not take supplements unless you have iron deficiency anemia and your doctor recommends them. Herbal and nutritional treatments may help when used along with medical treatment.
Iron -- Ferrous fumerate, glycerate, or sulfate are the forms of iron your body can absorb most easily. Always ask your doctor before taking an iron supplement. Taking a smaller dose three times a day or taking iron with meals may reduce side effects. If you miss a dose, don't take an extra dose the next time. Keep iron supplements away from children. Even a little excess iron can be fatal. Dietary sources of iron include red meat, especially calf liver, beans, beet greens, blackstrap molasses, almonds, and brewer's yeast. Green leafy vegetables contain both iron and folic acid.
Vitamin C (250 - 500 mg 2 times per day) helps your body absorb iron. Dietary sources include citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, broccoli, and cauliflower. Vitamin C supplements may interact with other medications, including chemotherapy drugs, estrogen, warfarin (Coumadin), and others.
Vitamin B12 (1,000 mcg via injection once a day for 1 - 2 weeks, then every 1 - 3 months; or orally, 1,000 - 2,000 mcg per day) helps in cases of vitamin deficient or pernicious anemia. Dietary sources include liver, meats, eggs, tuna, and cheese. People with pernicious anemia cannot absorb the proper amount of vitamin B12 and may need lifelong supplements.
Folic acid (400 - 1,000 mcg per day) -- For folic acid deficiency, which can cause anemia. Good food sources include green leafy vegetables, orange juice, and grains. Taking folic acid supplements can hide a vitamin B12 deficiency, so always take vitamin B12 when taking folic acid. Folic acid may interact with the chemotherapy drugs 5-fluorouracil and capecitabine (Xeloda). It may also interact with the antiseizure drugs phenytoin (Dilantin), phenobarbital, and primidone (Mysoline).
Blackstrap molasses, also known as pregnancy tea (1 tbs. per day in a cup of hot water), is a good source of iron, B vitamins, and minerals. Blackstrap molasses is also a very gentle laxative.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, take herbs only under the supervision of a health care provider.
Although few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic therapies, professional homeopaths may consider the following remedies for the treatment of anemia based on their knowledge and experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type -- your physical, emotional, and psychological makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate treatment for each individual.
A homeopath will usually consider anemia as symptomatic of an underlying condition, and treat that condition.
Eating a normal, balanced diet is very important if a nutrition problem is causing your anemia. You should avoid drugs that can cause stomach problems and too much alcohol if they are causing your anemia.
Complications from anemia can range from loss of productivity due to weakness and fatigue to coma and death.
Pregnant women need more iron and folic acid than normal. A folic acid deficiency during pregnancy can cause birth defects know as neural-tube defects, such as spina bifida.
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