ANEMIA. Causes, Foods, People at high risk, treatment Options


Anemia is a condition where the amount of hemoglobin in the blood is below the normal level, or there are fewer red blood cells than normal for physiologic functions. Anemia results from lack of adequate circulating oxygen in the blood.

This common disorder of the blood is one of the most prevalent public health problems often under diagnosed and under treated. It affects the health of individuals and attacks the development of families and the entire world in many spheres of life. Anemia is not a disease in itself but a product of a malfunction somewhere in the body. Anemia is a blood condition in which the number of red blood cells or their oxygen-carrying capacity is inadequate for physiologic needs. The incidences of anemia are related to factors of age, sex, altitude, smoking and pregnancy status.


Anemia is the absence of adequate level of healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin in normal blood needed for carrying out metabolic functions in the body. These cells are the main transporters of oxygen to the organs in the body. Anemia results from lack of adequate circulating oxygen in the blood. Adequate iron is required for red blood cells to deliver oxygen to the target body cells where normal physiological functions take place.


Iron deficiency is the most prevalent in the measurement of anemia status globally.  It is the most common cause of anemia in the world, although there are other contributing conditions such as folate, vitamin B12 and vitamin A deficiencies, malabsorption, hormone disorders and blood loss (due to trauma, surgery, cancers, peptic ulcer, heavy menstruation, or frequent blood donations). Chronic inflammation, periods of rapid growth or high energy requirements (such as puberty or pregnancy), parasitic infections and inherited disorders can also cause anemia.


There are several kinds of anemia (examples – vitamin deficiency, sickle cell, aplastic and hemolytic) caused by a variety of underlying factors with a wide range of clinical consequences. All are very different in their causes and treatments.

This article is concentrating on Iron-deficiency anemia. Iron-deficiency anemia, the most common type, is easily treated with dietary changes and iron supplements. However, some types of anemia may present lifelong health problems. If iron deficiency anemia is left untreated it can make one more susceptible to illnesses and infections because lack of iron in the body affects immune system (the body’s natural defense system). Severe iron deficiency anemia may increase the risk of developing complications that affect the heart or lungs, causing such as tachycardia (an abnormally fast heartbeat) or heart failure (heart not pumping blood around the body very efficiently). When a person is anemic, the heart works harder to pump sufficient quantity of blood needed to get adequate oxygen to meet the body’s needs and the person can become easily exhausted especially during  heavy exercise.

Generally, iron deficiency anemia is an example of microcytic anemia and it has many causes. Iron deficiency anemia is most common and widespread nutritional disorder which occurs when there is insufficient iron in the body. The diagnosis of iron deficiency mandates a search for potential sources of blood losses through such as pregnancy or gastrointestinal bleeding from ulcers or colon cancer or frequent blood donations or heavy menstrual periods or drugs or parasitic infestation.  Iron deficiency anemia is promoted by insufficient dietary intake or absorption of iron to meet the body’s needs. Infants, toddlers and pregnant women have higher than average needs. Iron is an essential part of hemoglobin and low iron levels result in decreased incorporation of hemoglobin into red blood cells.


Globally, pregnant women and children are most vulnerable. Some estimates suggest that around one in five menstruating women and half of all pregnant women are anemic. Pregnant and breastfeeding women have a higher risk of anemia complications before and after birth. Anemia should be treated or prevented early during pregnancy. Severe anemia in pregnancy and during breastfeeding can adversely affect the newborn. Children who are at increased risk of anemia are premature babies and those going through puberty. Others are vegetarians, people with cancers, stomach ulcers and some chronic diseases; people who are regular on certain diets (coffee, non-fermented soy and red wine), athletes and the elderly on poor diet.



Depending on the severity, the signs and symptoms of anemia may include fatigue or tiredness (lack of energy physically), lethargy – sluggishness, apathy, a feeling of laziness, malaise – a vague feeling that one is not well, dyspnea – shortness of breath and difficult or laboured breathing. Other presentations are frequent headaches, easily irritated, palpitations – unpleasant irregular and/or forceful beating of the heart and drop in blood pressure when standing from a sitting or lying position (orthostatic hypotension) – this may happen after an acute loss of blood through such as heavy period. Other signs and symptoms are cracked or reddened or sore tongue, loss of appetite, increased sensitivity to the cold temperature, poor concentration, angina (if pre-existing heart disease is present), intermittent claudication of the legs (restless leg syndrome) and heart failure. There may be signs and symptoms of pallor (abnormal paleness of skin, mucosal linings, conjunctiva and nail beds), iron deficiency and jaundice.

There may be bone deformities, pica (cravings for non-food items such as soil, paper, wax, grass, ice and hair) due to altered sense of taste and tinnitus – feeling of noise or ringing in one or both ears or in the head.  Hair loss, difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), painful ulcers (open sores) on the corners of the mouth and leg, and dry, flaky and spoon-shaped nails are presented.   Signs and symptoms of dizziness, drowsiness, atrophic glossitis – very smooth tongue, swelling of the legs and/or arms, chronic heartburn, vomiting, increased sweating and blood in stools are also noticed.


People should avoid regular consumption of foods and medicines that make it harder for the body to absorb iron such as tea, coffee, caffeinated drinks, calcium found in dairy products such as milk and antacids (best to have these drinks between meals). Over-dependence on fast foods and frozen processed foods such as chips, pizza and chicken nuggets should be avoided.  And the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as aspirin, diclofenac and ibuprofen; antibiotics and anti-coagulant medications without medical supervision should be avoided. There is need to avoid iron-poor diet, especially in infants, children, teens and vegetarians; frequent blood donation, endurance training and alcohol use.


There are different treatments for anemia but iron supplementation and food fortification are most cost-effective interventions. It is worthy to report the anemia symptoms and signs above for prompt and effective treatment.  Be consistent with the doctors and take as prescribed, the iron tablets/tonic. And if there is no obvious improvement, insist that you see a specialist to have your anemia condition reevaluated. Go for monitoring every 2-4 months to check if the treatment is working and the iron levels have returned to normal.


Eat regularly iron-rich foods such as dark-green leafy vegetables (such as watercress and curly kale), beans, nuts, red meat, poultry, dried fruits, unripe plantain, fishes, eggs, lentils, snails, crabs, crustaceans (shrimps, crayfish), seeds, wholegrain, breads and cereals which are essential for making hemoglobin, which helps to store and carry oxygen in red blood cells. Take iron supplements only on prescription. It is important to note that the human body hardly excretes iron, so you could poison yourself if you take more than the recommended dose. Take mineral supplements regularly and eat food rich in vitamin C (citrus fruits, red capsicum or kiwi fruit) in the same meal so as to improve iron absorption.

Leave a Reply