Although anemia is a condition that stems from a low hemoglobin level, the causes of anemia can be numerous, local health care officials say.
In some instances, women are more susceptible to being anemic than men are.
“The causes of anemia are multiple,” says Dr. Candice Yu-Fleming, a family medical physician with Portage Medical Group and a member of the Porter Physicians Group of Porter Regency Hospital.
Vitamin deficiency, including vitamins like iron, folic acid and vitamin B12, is a man cause of anemia. Another main cause is blood loss, which can even be caused by a woman’s menstrual cycle.
“If a woman says she has extremely heavy periods, or has 10-day period only 20 days apart, then the first thing we do is to figure out why their periods are abnormal and treat that,” she says.
Other causes of anemia due to blood loss can be a slow blood leak, as in one caused by a hernia or even rheumatoid arthritis. In some instances, anemia can be hereditary, as is the case with sickle cell anemia.
Once anemia is diagnosed, the doctor always works to determine what the cause of the anemia is, and to treat that, as well.
Symptoms of anemia tend to be feeling tired and fatigued.
There are levels of anemia, from a low-level “walking anemia” potentially caused by a slow bleed to a more serious case.
If the cause of the anemia is left untreated, serious health risks can develop, Dr. Yu-Fleming says.
“Anemia is a blood condition, and if it’s left untreated and you don’t have enough blood, your system has to work overtime to circulate the blood you do have,” she says. “That taxes your heart.”
Once a patient is diagnosed with anemia and its cause is identified, the condition is easily treated, says Bobbi Homola, the clinical manager for food and nutrition services at St. Mary Medical Center and St. Catherine Hospital.
It can often be treated by taking a simple oral iron supplement, Homola says.
“Iron is best absorbed on an empty stomach, and unfortunately that increases the side-effects,” she says. “The side effects (of iron supplements) can include nausea, heartburn, diarrhea or constipation.”
Homola says it’s always better to work toward preventing anemia instead of having to treat the disease itself.
Treatment can be as easy as having proper nutrition and decreasing coffee and tea consumption at meal times, as it can decrease iron absorption.
“Eat a well-balanced diet that includes good sources of iron, vitamin B12 and folate,” she says. “Vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron, so include citrus juice, melons, dark green leafy vegetables and potatoes with your meals.”