Feeling rundown or overtired day in and day out? Sometimes we need more than just a good night’s sleep to feel better. Fatigue could be an indicator of an underlying health condition. Millions of Americans have anemia, but, many remain undiagnosed and unwell. According to the CDC, anemia was primarily responsible for 890,000 emergency room visits in the United States in 2018 alone. Left unchecked, this disease can disrupt your daily life and even cause harm to your body.
What is Anemia?
Anemia is a deficiency of red blood cells in the body. Red blood cells bring oxygen to the tissues in our body and release carbon dioxide to our lungs. Oxygen turns into energy, which is an essential function to keep us going. Anemia occurs when you’re either having a decreased production or increased consumption of red blood cells. This can be caused by vitamin deficiencies, problems in your bone marrow, excessive bleeding, or even by your own body attacking red blood cells and getting rid of them too quickly. One of the most common causes of anemia is a lack of iron in the diet. Anemia is a dangerous condition for a lot of reasons. It prevents adequate blood flow to your tissues and can result in extreme fatigue, pregnancy complications, heart problems, and even death in some cases. Anemia can also be a predictor of an even worse condition. Losing blood in your stool can lead to anemia, but it is also an early symptom of colon cancer. Learning why your anemia is happening is extremely important for the treatment and prevention of further illness.
For primary care physicians, a case of anemia is fairly common. Early symptoms include fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness, and feeling cold all the time. Severe symptoms include a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, or extreme dizziness. Anemia is also known to cause odd symptoms that you wouldn’t expect. Iron deficiency anemia is known to be highly associated with Restless Leg Syndrome, which is a condition characterized by an urge to constantly keep your legs moving, especially when you are trying to go to bed at night. Another unexpected symptom is a strong craving for chewing ice, which is medically referred to as Pica.
If you suspect you have anemia, it’s a good idea to see a doctor sooner rather than later. Some people are at a greater risk for anemia than others. Women are more at risk because, due to monthly menstruation, resulting in blood loss. Additionally, some medical conditions place you at higher risk such as inflammatory bowel disease and other autoimmune conditions. Pregnancy can increase your risk for anemia because both the mother and the baby require oxygen, which means you require more iron. The test for anemia is fairly simple.
“We’ll generally get something called a CBC (Complete Blood Count) at every annual wellness visit and that will show you what your hemoglobin is,” said Internist and Pediatrician, Sarah Chen, DO of TPMG Holland Road Family Medicine in Virginia Beach. This test will tell your doctor what your blood cells look like and what size they are. Although a CBC test will tell your doctor whether or not you have anemia, it won’t necessarily tell you why, which is just as important. After a confirmed case of anemia, your doctor might follow up with an iron study to look at how high your iron is and what your ferritin (your storage form of iron) looks like. This information helps to determine if your anemia is due to an iron deficiency.
Treatment for Anemia
Treatment for anemia can differ depending on the cause. For some, oral iron supplements are helpful. For those unable to take oral iron supplements, polysaccharide iron supplements are a great alternative. And if those options still aren’t effective, those with anemia can see a hematologist (a blood specialist) to get iron infusions, a simple in-office treatment. With treatment, anemia is often very manageable. Anemia can also be a preventable condition. Make sure you maintain a healthy diet that is high in iron with things like green, leafy vegetables, like spinach, and animal-based proteins. Additionally, women should pay attention to their menstrual flow. If you find it fairly heavy, it’s worth bringing up to a doctor on your next wellness visit.
Although anemia can be an exhausting condition, there is hope. If you suspect that you have anemia, don’t hesitate to reach out to a TPMG physician to address your concerns. Anemia can be a warning signal for dangerous illness, so it’s better to know sooner rather than later if you have this condition. Don’t let anemia steal your energy and find help today.
About Sarah Chen, DO
Sarah Chen, DO is board certified in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. As a primary care physician, Dr. Chen strives to remain up to date in her practice, offering patients the best care possible. She also believes that the best patient-provider relationships require open communication, where her patients feel heard. She encourages her patients to take an active role in their health by equipping them with the knowledge and tools to better understand their condition. Dr. Chen is an Internist and Pediatrician in Virginia Beach who warmly welcomes new patients to reserve an appointment with her at TPMG Holland Road Family Medicine in Virginia Beach.