Our blood is one of the most important organs in the body, carrying essential resources such as nutrients and oxygen from top to toe. However, as we don’t usually see our blood, it’s hard to tell if it’s healthy or not! This is unlike other organs such as the skin, since diseases of this body part are usually a lot more obvious!
Our experienced private GPs know exactly which subtle symptoms to look out for with regard to diseases of the blood, including anaemia. That said, it also really helps if patients have an idea of what to look out for too, and when to seek medical help, which is why today’s blog is focusing on spotting the symptoms of anaemia.
Did you know that your blood makes up around 7% of your total body weight, with approximately 5 litres of the stuff flowing around at once! When things are going well, it does a fabulous job; however things can sometimes go wrong with the blood, too, leading to the development of various blood diseases such as leukaemia, anaemia, bleeding disorders and lymphoma.
Today we’re focusing on anaemia and the different types and symptoms for each.
What is Anaemia?
Anaemia is a common blood condition that develops when your blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells or haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is a crucial part of red blood cells which binds oxygen, allowing it to be transported in the blood to your organs. If you have too few or abnormal red blood cells, or your haemoglobin is low or abnormal, the cells in your body will not get enough oxygen, which can result in certain symptoms.
Anaemia occurs when the normal balance between red blood cell production in the bone marrow and red blood cell destruction in the spleen is disrupted – resulting in an overall loss of red blood cells. This can be due to:
- Inadequate red cell production – This may be due to an inadequate supply of the necessary “ingredients”, particularly iron, folic acid and vitamin B12, or problems with the bone marrow, impairing its ability to make red blood cells
- Bleeding from any source, such as the bowel, or during menstruation – Red cells may be lost from the body at a faster rate than they can be replaced
- Premature or excessive destruction of blood cells in the spleen
There are many different types of anaemia, and the symptoms you experience will vary depending on the type. However, there are some general symptoms of anaemia to watch out for, and we have listed these below:
- Fatigue, tiredness, lethargy
- Breathing difficulties when exercising
- Angina (chest tightness when exercising)
- Leg pains
- Pale complexion
Now, lets look in some greater detail at the main types of anaemia, and some of the symptoms you may experience with each type:
Iron deficiency Anaemia
As the most common type worldwide, Iron deficiency anaemia results from a shortage of iron in the body, reducing the amount of haemoglobin that can be produced. It can be caused by blood loss of any source, and is common in pregnant women. Other than the above mentioned general symptoms of anaemia, look out for the following signs of low iron:
- Upward curvature of the nails, referred to as koilonychia
- Soreness of the mouth with cracks at the corners
- A smooth or sore tongue
Iron deficiency Anaemia is common in pregnant women
Vitamin B12 Deficiency
In addition to iron, your body needs vitamin B12 and folate to produce enough healthy red blood cells. A diet low in B12 (or an inability to process this vitamin) can cause decreased red blood cell production. Again, along with the common anaemia symptoms, people may experience the following:
- A tingling, “pins and needles” sensation in the hands or feet
- Loss of sense of touch
- An unsteady gait or difficulty walking
- Clumsiness or stiffness of the arms and legs
1. Chronic Red Blood Cell Destruction (haemolysis):
This group of anaemias develop when red blood cells are destroyed (haemolysis) faster than bone marrow can replace them. Signs of haemolytic anaemia include:
- Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes)
- Brown or red urine
- Leg ulcers
- Failure to thrive (in babies)
- Symptoms of gallstones
2. Sudden Red Blood Cell Destruction (haemolysis):
Look out for similar signs as chronic haemolytic anaemia, but with a quick onset of symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Brown or red urine
- Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes)
- Small bruises under the skin
- Symptoms of kidney failure
- Reduction of urine volume
- Swelling of legs, ankles etc
- Shortness of breath
Sickle Cell Anaemia:
This is an inherited type of anaemia, which is very rare in the Caucasian population, but relatively common in people of African descent.
This condition is caused by a defective form of haemoglobin that forces red blood cells to assume an abnormal crescent (sickle) shape. These irregular blood cells die prematurely, resulting in a chronic shortage of red blood cells. Common symptoms include:
- Susceptibility to infection
- Delayed growth and development in children
- Episodes of severe pain in joints or limbs
A common symptom of sickle cell Anaemia is fatigue
Anaemia of Chronic Disease
Certain diseases — such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, Crohn’s disease and other chronic inflammatory diseases — can interfere with the production of red blood cells.
There are several other types of anaemias, such as aplastic anaemia (the bone marrow doesn’t produce enough red blood cells), thalassemia (the body makes an abnormal form of haemoglobin), and anaemia associated with bone marrow diseases (such as leukaemia and myelofibrosis).
When To Seek Medical Advice
Some types of anaemia, such as iron deficiency or vitamin B12 deficiency are common, and very treatable. Seek medical advice from your GP if you notice any of these possible signs or symptoms of anaemia, or if you suffer any of the following:
- Persistent fatigue, breathlessness, rapid heart rate, pale skin, or any other symptoms of anaemia
- Very heavy menstrual periods
- Symptoms of an ulcer, gastritis, haemorrhoids, or colorectal cancer
- Concern about environmental exposure to lead
- A hereditary anaemia runs in your family and you would like genetic counselling before having a child
If you’re concerned you may be experiencing any of the above symptoms of anaemia, or would like blood testing to detect any anaemia, why not book in for a private GP consultation at London Doctors Clinic? One routine blood test (with results available same-day) could provide a diagnosis for your symptoms, and our experienced GP’s are able to advise of treatment of such conditions to get you back to optimum health! Visit our clinic location page to find the nearest Doctors surgery to you!
By Melissa Dillon