Anemia is only a symptom, what matters is the cause

Anemia is a decrease in hemoglobin level. It is not a disease but a symptom that can have multiple origins and is treated by experts in hematology.

There are three types of cells in the blood:

  • Red blood cells: they carry a molecule called nemoglobin which is essential for oxygen to reach the cells.
  • Leukocytes: protect against infections
  • Platelets: prevent bleeding

Anemia is defined as a decrease in the hemoglobin level. Anemia is considered to exist when the hemoglobin level is less than 13g/dL for males, 12g/dL for females and 11g/dL for pregnant women. However, any significant decrease in hemoglobin level (e.g. from 16g/dL to 13g/dL) has been investigated even if the hemoglobin level is not less than 13g/dL.

Causes of anemia

Anemia is not a disease, but a symptom. Anemia can have many causes, the most common being a lack of iron, due to small hemorrhages, especially in the digestive tract, which the patient does not notice or does not appreciate. It is also frequent in the case of young women due to heavy menstruation, pregnancy or breastfeeding. Deficiencies of vitamin B12 and folic acid can also cause anemia. In some cases, the bone marrow (the “factory” of the blood) does not function properly and causes the onset of anemia, accompanied in many cases by alterations in leukocytes and platelets. For all these reasons, the diagnosis of anemia cannot be considered complete until its cause has been ascertained.

Symptoms of anemia

In its initial phase, the hemoglobin level is practically normal and only a very marked iron deficiency is observed, which is a preliminary step to the development of anemia. In these cases, there are hardly any symptoms and iron deficiency is usually detected in a routine analysis. When the iron deficiency is very marked, symptoms such as hair loss, broken nails or small ulcers in the mouth, and symptoms produced by the anemia itself, such as paleness, palpitations, dizziness and tiredness, may be observed.

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Treatment for anemia

Any balanced diet provides sufficient iron for the body to manufacture hemoglobin under normal conditions. The treatment of anemia varies depending on your case. A common mistake is to treat anemia with iron and poly-vitamins without finding out the cause. Once the cause of the anemia has been ascertained and resolved, the iron must be replenished. To do this, iron sulfate tablets are administered until the hemoglobin and iron levels are normalized. It may happen that iron administered orally is poorly tolerated (stomach pains, constipation); in this case intravenous iron preparations can be administered. Once the anemia has resolved, periodic checks should be made to ensure that it does not recur.