Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Anemia (info)

What is anemia?
Anemia occurs when your blood doesn't have enough hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein in your red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. A common cause of anemia is not having enough iron. (Your body needs iron to make hemoglobin.)

Symptoms of anemia
Often, no symptoms
Feeling tired
Unusual shortness of breath during exercise
Fast heartbeat
Cold hands and feet
Brittle nails

What can cause low iron levels?
A number of things can cause you to be low in iron:

Lack of iron in the diet. This is mostly a problem for children and young women. Children who drink a lot of milk and don't eat iron-rich foods and young women who follow "fad" diets may be at risk for iron deficiency.

Growth spurts. Children under age 3 are growing so fast that their bodies may have a hard time keeping up with the amount of iron they need.

Pregnancy. Women who are pregnant or who are breast feeding need 2½ times as much iron as men. That's why pregnant women may be tested for anemia and why they need to eat more iron-rich foods or take a daily iron pill.

Blood loss. This is a common reason for iron deficiency anemia in adults. Heavy periods may cause anemia. Blood loss can also be caused by internal bleeding, usually in the digestive tract. A stomach ulcer, ulcerative colitis, cancer, or taking aspirin or similar medicine for a long time can cause bleeding in your stomach or intestines. That's why it's important to find the reason for a low iron level.

How is anemia diagnosed?
Talk to your doctor if you think you might have anemia. A blood test will probably be done to diagnose anemia. Other tests may be needed to find out what's causing the anemia.

Can anemia be prevented?
Some types can be prevented, such as those caused by diet. You can help prevent this type of anemia by making sure you eat foods that have iron. See the box below for a list of iron-rich foods.
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Foods high in iron
Liver and other meats
Dried fruits like apricots, prunes and raisins
Beans, especially lima beans
Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli
Blackstrap molasses
Whole grains
Iron-fortified breads and cereals (check the label)

How is anemia treated?
It depends on what's causing the anemia. For example, if anemia results from losing too much blood, the cause of the blood loss will need to be treated. If anemia results from a diet that's low in iron, your doctor may recommend a change in your diet or iron pills.

How can I increase the iron in my diet?
Your body best absorbs the iron in meats. Eating a small amount of meat along with other sources of iron, such as certain vegetables, can help you get even more iron out of these foods. Taking vitamin C pills or eating foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits or juice, at the same time you eat iron-rich foods or take your iron pill can help your body absorb the iron better.

Some foods block the absorption of iron. These include coffee, tea, egg yolks, milk, fiber and soy protein. Try to avoid these when you're eating food high in iron.


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