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Anaemia

Medibank Health Directory

What is Anaemia?

Anaemia is the most common blood disorder, yet it can go undetected in many people because its signs and symptoms can be quite vague.

It occurs when you have lower-than-usual red blood cells or haemoglobin levels; and the most common cause of anaemia is iron deficiency.

While not necessarily a disease in its own right, anaemia can cause complications.

Red blood cells play an essential role in carrying oxygen around the body. The oxygen is carried in a protein called haemoglobin, contained within the red blood cells. If you are anaemic, you either have a reduced red blood cell count, or your haemoglobin levels are lower than normal.

Because of this deficiency, your heart has to work harder to get oxygen to all the muscles and organs in your body; so you can become tired more quickly.

Anaemia is typically diagnosed via a blood count, which also enables the doctors to identify the cause and type of anaemia you have (as there are different types, requiring different treatments). Depending on the outcome of this test, you will learn whether you can fix your anaemia in the short-term, or whether it is a lifelong condition.

Symptoms of anaemia

Some of the symptoms of anaemia may include:

  • fatigue, weakness or getting tired more easily
  • pale skin
  • breathlessness
  • a drop in blood pressure when you stand up
  • headaches
  • a racing heart
  • mood swings or difficulty concentrating.

Causes and treatment of anaemia

There are different types of anaemia, each with their own causes. Typical causes of anaemia include blood loss, deficient diet, infection and medications. Some groups of people are at a higher risk of anaemia than others. Menstruating and pregnant women are a very high risk group; as are premature babies, vegetarians, athletes and people with cancer, stomach ulcers and some chronic diseases. See a comprehensive list of causes of anaemia here

Once your doctor has identified the cause of your anaemia, they will be able to advise the most appropriate course of treatment. 

The most common treatments are iron, vitamin and mineral supplements or iron injections. However, it is important to have your iron levels checked before you go down this path – and get the correct dosage as advised by your doctor – because the human body finds it hard to get rid of excess iron and you could poison yourself if you take more than the recommended dose. 

Other treatments for anaemia include vitamin B12 injections, antibiotics, blood transfusions, oxygen therapy or surgery.

Again, it is important to get your condition diagnosed by a doctor, so that they can rule out dangerous underlying diseases and prescribe the most effective treatment for you. Then, once you’ve been treated, it’s a good idea to continue to check your red blood cell and haemoglobin levels on a regular basis, as relapses can occur. 

Further information and sources

Disclaimer

This article is of a general nature only. You should always seek medical advice if you think you may have the symptoms of anaemia.