Red blood cells are a vital component of the blood, responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs to all of the body’s tissues and structures.1 Anemia can occur when your body either doesn’t produce enough red blood cells, destroys them, or loses them through blood loss (faster than they can be replenished). If you’re receiving adequate levels of iron, vitamin B-12, folate, and other nutrients, these cells are generated in the spongy bone marrow nestled between your bones. While blood diseases are sometimes to blame for anemia, iron deficiencies are the most common culprit. The condition may also develop as a result of a change in diet, pregnancy, heavy menstrual cycles, inflammatory bowel disease, or internal bleeding.
Here are some ways that being anemic can affect your daily life:
If fatigue is keeping you from seizing the day – this could be a sign of anemia. In fact, half of all people with anemia report feeling overtired. This is contributed to the lack of oxygen reaching your tissues and muscles; just as we need air to breathe, our organs require oxygen-rich blood to function optimally. It’s important to note that fatigue can signify a host of other health problems – so, it’s best to speak with your doctor to determine the real cause of your sluggishness.
Everyday activities such as walking, climbing stairs, and regular exercise shouldn’t leave you gasping for breath. If you find yourself catching your breath often, your hemoglobin levels may be low. When muscles don’t have access to enough oxygen, the body increases its breathing rate to compensate for the shortage.
The brain does not respond well to a lack of oxygen; its initial reaction is a swelling of blood vessels that results in uncomfortable pressure and chronic headaches.
Effects on Mental Health
While anemia is considered to be a physical condition, recent studies reveal a strong link between iron deficiency and mental health. Those with iron deficiency or anemia can experience a host of psychological symptoms, including anxiety, irritability, depression, and a decrease in cognitive abilities (including poor concentration). In fact, it is reported that those with anemia are four to five times more likely to perform worse on executive function tests that measure the ability to strategize, solve problems, and assess danger. The elderly are particularly vulnerable to anemia, and these cognitive symptoms often contribute to the loss of their capacity to be self-sufficient.
Matters of the Heart
Listen to your heart; no really – if you feel as though your heart is pounding, your physician may want to conduct tests to determine whether your internal organs such as the brain and heart are receiving enough oxygen. Heart palpitations or the detection of a murmur may suggest iron deficiency. If your blood tests reveal low hemoglobin, an iron supplement may be beneficial.
Other Noticeable Symptoms
Sometimes outward symptoms lead patients to question if something is amiss. Dry and damaged skin, brittle nails, and a swollen tongue may be indicative of something more serious. When there is a shortage of oxygen in the body, its stores are used to “power” more vital organs, leaving hair, skin, and nails to suffer. In dire cases, hair loss may occur The outer extremities including the hands and feet often experience a decrease in circulation that can leave you feeling perpetually cold.
Anemia can severely affect your overall quality of life. Thankfully, physicians offer a host of diagnostic tools including complete blood count (CBC) testing to gauge whether you possess sufficient levels of blood components such as hemoglobin. The board-certified gastroenterologists at US Digestive Health are equipped to diagnose anemia – whether it’s the result of an ulcer, colon cancer, excessive menstrual flow, or a blood disease. As always, be in tune with your body, as feedback and open lines of communication are keys to better health. To schedule an appointment, call 717-245-2228.