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What is Anemia? Understanding its causes and treatments

Anemia is a blood disorder that develops when your body does not have enough properly functioning
red blood cells. Nutritional anemias are caused by either a lack of nutrients needed to make red blood
cells from the dies, or an inability to absorb these nutrients in the body. The good news is that most
nutritional anemias are treatable and in many cases, can be prevented.
Your heart is constantly pumping blood throughout your body to deliver oxygen and other nutrients to
your organs. It is able to deliver oxygen with the help of hemoglobin, which is a protein found in red
blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. When you don’t have enough red
blood cells, or when hemoglobin levels are low, the body lacks oxygen. This situation leads to common
symptoms of anemia, such as weakness, feeling cold, pale skin and fatigue.

Types of common Anemia…

Some types are very common, while others are rare. Similarly, some are mild, while others can be life-
threatening. Common nutritional anemias include iron deficiency anemia, folic acid deficiency anemia
and Vitamin B 12 deficiency.

Iron deficiency anemia:

Iron deficiency anemia is the most prevalent anemia worldwide. It occurs when you do not have
enough iron in your body. Iron is an essential nutrient because your body uses it in order to make
hemoglobin. Low iron results in fewer and smaller red blood cells, ultimately leading to your body being
unable to get enough oxygen.

Iron deficiency anemia is caused by:
• Blood loss, such as heavy menstrual bleeding or stomach ulcers
• Poor iron absorption, which can occur with intestinal disorders, such as celiac disease
• Increased need for iron during pregnancy and childhood.
This type of anemia can usually be treated by taking an iron supplement. You will likely feel better a few
days of taking iron supplements, but it takes several months to build up the iron stores in your body.

Folic acid deficiency anemia:

While your body does not have enough folic acid, it results in anemia. Folic acid or vitamin B 9, is used to
help make cells in the body, including red blood cells. When people have low levels of folic acid, it is
often because they:
• Do not get enough folic acid in their diet
• Have an increased need for folic acid, such as in pregnancy
• Have trouble absorbing it from the foods they eat, which can happen in people with severe kidney problems
• Take certain medications, such as methotrexate, which is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis
This anemia is treated with daily folic acid supplement of at least 0.4mg
Vitamin B 12 is another vitamin needed to make red blood cells. When B 12 levels in the body are low, it
results in vitamin B 12 deficiency anemia. Chronically low levels of vitamin B 12 can also result in damage to nerve cells, affecting memory and thinking. Most people who eat animal products get enough vitamin
B 12 from their diet. B 12 deficiency anemia in non-vegetarians usually happens when the body cannot
absorb enough of the vitamin through digestion.
This can be caused by:
• Pernicious anemia
• Previous surgery that removed part of the digestive tract, such as the stomach or small intestine.
• Medical conditions that impact the way your body digests food, like Crohn’s disease
This type of anemia can be treated with B 12 supplements, which help increase the levels of vitamin B 12
back to normal. These supplements can be in the form of daily pills, or weekly to monthly injections.

How can anemia be prevented?

Certain anemias are caused by inherited genetic conditions and unfortunately, these cannot be
prevented or cured. However, it is possible to prevent anemia caused by nutritional deficiencies. This
can be done by eating healthy foods with high levels of iron (e.g. beef, dark leafy vegetables, legumes),
Vitamin B 12 (e.g. meat, dairy, eggs, nutritional leafy vegetables, whole grains). When preventing
nutritional deficiencies, it is always preferable to get your vitamins and minerals from food sources first.
However, a daily multivitamin can also be used to increase the amount of vitamins and minerals in your
body.

If you have symptoms of anemia, speak with your doctor. They will likely ask you about your medical
history and order a blood test. If you are diagnosed with anemia, follow your doctor’s advice to treat it,
so that you can start feeling better soon.

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Carol Wilmot, Director of Nursing
Phone: 604-781-4784
helpinghands.nursing@gmail.com

Laura Hart, Office Administrator
Phone: 604-789-5447
helpinghandslaurahart@gmail.com