What is Anaemia?

Anaemia is a deficiency of red blood cells, which can lead to a lack of oxygen-carrying ability, causing unusual tiredness and other symptoms.

The deficiency occurs either through the reduced production or an increased loss of red blood cells. These cells are manufactured in the bone marrow and have a life expectancy of approximately four months.

To produce red blood cells, the body needs (among other things) iron, vitamin B12 and folic acid . If there is a lack of one or more of these ingredients anaemia will develop.

What causes Anaemia?

There are several causes of anaemia. They include:

  • Defective bone marrow.
  • A shortage of iron, the main ingredient of haemoglobin.
  • A shortage of the vitamins B12 or folic acid, both needed to produce red blood cells.
  • Loss of blood, through heavy menstruation, or internal bleeding, which may be caused by disease.
  • Infections such as malaria.

What are the symptoms of Anaemia?

  • The first symptoms of Anaemia are tiredness and palpitations.
  • Other common symptoms include shortness of breath and dizziness.
  • If the anaemia is severe there is a risk of angina (chest pain), headache and leg pains.
  • The body’s ability to fight infection is also compromised.

Long-term Anaemia caused by iron deficiency can cause a range of symptoms including:

  • A burning sensation in the tongue.
  • Dryness in the mouth and throat.
  • Sores at the corners of the mouth.
  • An altered sense of touch.
  • Difficulty in swallowing.
  • Brittle hair.

How can Anaemia be treated?

Treatment depends on the cause and severity, but may include:

  • Vitamin and mineral supplements – in the case of deficiency.
  • Iron injections – if the person is very low on iron.
  • Vitamin B12 (by injection) – required for pernicious anaemia.
  • Antibiotics – if infection is to blame.
  • Altering the dose or regimen of regular medications – such as anti-inflammatory drugs, if necessary.
  • Blood transfusions – if required.
  • Oxygen therapy – if required.
  • Surgery to prevent abnormal bleeding – such as heavy menstruation.
  • Surgery to remove the spleen – splenectomy.