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Risk Factors for Anemia

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Struggling with fatigue and low energy but you don’t know why? It could be you are one of the millions of Americans suffering silently from anemia. According to the National Institutes for Health, certain people are more at risk for developing anemia symptoms than others. Read on to find out if you may be at risk for anemia or currently anemic and what to do about it.

Although anemia is commonly thought of as a disease, it is actually considered a condition or symptom, rather than a disease itself. Anemia can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, nutritional deficiencies, medications, blood loss, insufficient red blood cell production, or chronic disease. Most cases of anemia are temporary, but some can last for several months or years.

This article discusses the risk factors of anemia, as well as some of the most common types.

What is Anemia?

Anemia is a condition where the body either does not produce enough red blood cells or does not produce enough healthy blood cells. Blood consists of two parts: plasma, which contains all of the protein, nutrients, hormones, and electrolytes that your body needs. 55 percent of your blood is actually plasma. The rest of your blood is made up of red and white blood cells and platelets. White blood cells fight infection.

Platelets clot the blood. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body and into all tissues. The average person has between 4.7 million and 5.2 million red blood cells per cubic millimeter of blood, which is a staggering amount. Each red blood cell contains about 280 million hemoglobin molecules, which uses protein to bind to iron.

Hemoglobin binds to oxygen in the exchange of carbon dioxide. Without hemoglobin, the body cannot effectively move oxygen through the body. Certain nutrients (B vitamins, iron, and a few other nutrients) are important for the healthy production of hemoglobin. Deficiencies in nutrients will quickly lead to a reduction in hemoglobin and lead to anemia.

Types of Anemia

In general, the average case of anemia is caused by a nutrient deficiency. In rarer cases, a medical condition can cause anemia, such as with sickle-cell anemia. Most types of anemia include:

Iron-Deficient Anemia

Iron is an important part of hemoglobin production. Without iron, your red blood cell count remains low. This essentially causes slow asphyxiation damage. Over time, this can cause serious problems.

Anemia of Chronic Disease

Anemia of chronic disease (also called ACD or ACI) is a common condition caused by inflammatory diseases. In this case, inflammation causes red blood cells to die too quickly (normally a blood cell has about a 120-day life). In some cases, a person may have a lack of a hormone in the bones that triggers red blood cell production, compounding the issue. This type of anemia is often triggered by cancer, long-term infections, autoimmune diseases, liver disease, kidney failure, and heart failure.

Treatment-Related Anemia

This form of anemia is caused by other medical treatments or medications. Intensive therapies, like radiation for cancer, can trigger anemia symptoms.

Megaloblastic Anemia

A lack of B vitamins (folate and B12) can lead to megaloblastic anemia. Deficiencies in B vitamins causes the production of blood cells that are too large and have a short life. Most people will not get this kind of anemia unless they are strict vegetarians, or have problems absorbing nutrients.

Symptoms of Anemia
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fatigue
  • Breathlessness
  • Tingling in hands and feet
  • Pale tone under skin
  • Ringing in the ears

The Risk Factors for Anemia

Anemia can hit anyone, but the truth is that it is far more likely to affect certain people than others. If you have noticed any of the symptoms of anemia in your life and are also in one of the major risk factor groups, consider getting a blood test to check for anemia the next time you visit your doctor. Don't delay, anemia left undetected and untreated can cause serious health problems.

Young Children and Babies

A large portion of children are deficient in iron and have anemia. According to The National Institutes of Health, up to 20 percent of babies and children in the United States have mild to moderate anemia. Usually, it is iron deficiencies or blood disordered caused by genetics that causes anemia in young children.

According to The Mayo Clinic, children of Hispanic descent are twice as likely to have anemia as children of other races. Children in low-income houses are also at higher risk for developing the disorder. Children must eat about 1 mg of iron daily to prevent anemia. Children only can absorb about 10 percent of the iron they take in a day, so a daily dose of about 10 mg of iron is adequate for children.

Children who drink a lot of milk may also be at higher risk for anemia, as milk can interfere with the absorption of iron. As a filling drink, a lot of milk in the diet may also encourage children to eat fewer iron-rich foods.

Older Adults

Adults older than age 65 are at higher risk for developing anemia. This is generally caused by nutritional deficiencies (eating a bland diet filled with foods low in iron), chronic diseases, inflammation, and chronic renal disease. Living in a nursing home is also a risk factor for developing anemia.

Premenopausal Women

Women under the age of 49 are much more likely to be diagnosed with anemia. About 10 percent of younger women and teen girls are anemia. This form of anemia is usually triggered by a diet low in iron combined with heavy periods. Women who have periods lasting longer than five days and abnormal uterine bleeding (caused by fibroids or other abnormalities) are much more likely to be diagnosed with anemia. In most cases, ensuring the diet is high in iron and nutrients throughout the month can counteract the iron loss from a heavy period.

Pregnancy

Women who are pregnant are more likely to be diagnosed with anemia. When pregnant, your body prioritizes nutrients for the growing fetus, borrowing any missing nutrients from whatever stores a woman may have in her body. This can trigger nutrient deficiencies in B vitamins, folate, and iron during pregnancy and up to a year or two after pregnancy. Additionally, pregnancy often has a side effect of swelling, which while has benefits for the baby and an easier birth, it can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Fluid retention is associated with the production of plasma, which can dilute the number of red blood cells in the blood. This can trigger anemia if the cell count is out-of-balance.

The Mayo Clinic recommends that women consume at least 27 mg of iron per day to prevent pregnancy-related anemia. Taking higher doses of iron after pregnancy can also help the body heal faster, prevent anemia, and ensure that a new baby gets enough iron in its diet while it is breastfed.

Poor Diet

If you have a limited diet, low in B vitamins and iron, you are far more likely to have anemia. If you eat a diet mainly high in processed foods or eat a vegetarian diet, you are more likely to have anemia. Individuals who eat meat regularly are at lower risk for developing anemia from a lack of iron. However, other nutrient deficiencies can also trigger anemia, which can hit anyone who does not eat a well-rounded diet filled with healthy meat, vegetables, and whole grains.

Alcoholism

People who drink a lot of alcohol are at higher risk for developing anemia due to a lack of vitamins.

Illness

Chronic illnesses that trigger inflammation and internal bleeding will increase anemia risk. Any time blood loss occurs, anemia risk increases. Some people also have trouble absorbing iron and other nutrients (such as with digestive diseases), which can also trigger anemia. Blood Loss Any time you lose a lot of blood your risk of anemia increases. Surgery, accidents, stomach ulcers, ulcerative colitis, cancer, and taking aspirin too often can trigger internal bleeding which can lead to anemia.

Genetics

If you have sickle cell disease or thalassemia, you are far more likely to be anemic. If a person in your family suffers from genetic anemia, you are more likely to suffer from it as well, even if you believe you are perfectly healthy.

Natural Treatments for Anemia

In most cases, upping nutrient intake will cure most cases of anemia. Low iron is the trigger for most cases of anemia, but deficiencies in copper, zinc, selenium, folic acid, B12, and vitamin C. Upping your intake of these nutrients from diet or supplement form can help reverse anemia and prevent it from returning. Consult with your doctor for precise supplement directions. Taking too much of a nutrient may also bring unpleasant side effects.

Are You At Risk for Anemia?

The risk factors for anemia are somewhat narrow, but they affect an large number of people. If you fall into any of the risk factors for anemia, contact your doctor right away for a consultation and blood test. Once you identify the cause of your anemia, supplementing with key nutrients is usually enough to reverse the symptoms and help you return to your normal, healthy self.

Next Article: Home Remedies to Treat Anemia