Anaemia is a condition in which the number of red blood cells (RBCs) is reduced, or there is a reduction in the level of haemoglobin in the blood. In anaemia, the transportation of oxygen through the body is impaired, and the anaemic person is underoxygenated. Anaemia is usually detected or at least confirmed by a complete blood cell count, in which the different types of cells in the blood are counted and examined. What are Red Blood Cells? Red blood cells are small disc-shaped cells, which are the most common type of cells in the blood. Everyone has millions of these cells in their blood. A red blood cell count is carried out in order to determine if the number of red blood cells is low (anaemia) or high (polycythaemia). The number and size of the blood cells, and a microscopic examination of their shape is determined in the blood count. The result of the test is useful in the diagnosis of anaemia, and the type of anaemia. What is Haemoglobin? Haemoglobin is a protein that gives red blood cells their colour. Haemoglobin is the key chemical compound that combines with oxygen from the lungs, and transports it from the lungs to tissues in the body. Oxygen is necessary for cells to produce energy. The blood also transports carbon dioxide, the waste product of this energy production process, back to the lungs, from where it is exhaled. What are the Symptoms of Anaemia? Symptoms of anaemia include: fatigue, headaches, pallor, palpitations, poor concentration, shortness of breath, impaired digestive functioning, weakness and lack of strength. What Causes Anaemia? There are a number of causes of anaemia, the main ones being dietary, or through blood loss. Other causes of anaemia include: folate deficiency; vitamin B12 deficiency, as in pernicious anaemia; certain bone marrow diseases; rupture of red blood cells caused by antibodies clinging to their surface, as in haemolytic anaemia. Dietary Causes of Anaemia A major cause of iron deficiency anaemia is a lack of iron in the diet. Vegetarians must ensure that they have an adequate source of iron in their diet, as omitting meat from the diet is omitting a source of natural iron. Adults, babies and young children may all suffer iron deficiency anaemia because of a lack of dietary iron. Blood Loss Another common cause of iron deficiency in adults is chronic blood loss. Women are more likely than men to suffer from anaemia because of the loss of blood each month through menstruation. Blood loss can also be caused by small amounts of repeated bleeding, as in, for example, colon cancer. Anaemia can also be due to gastrointestinal bleeding caused by medications including common drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen. Acute blood loss from internal bleeding, e.g., an ulcer, or from external bleeding, can produce anaemia very quickly. Medical Treatment of Anaemia The treatment of anaemia depends on the cause. Iron supplements may be given in the treatment of iron-deficiency anaemia. Vitamin B12 injections are given in the treatment of pernicious anaemia. Blood transfusions may be necessary in severe cases of anaemia.
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