IT’S A COLD, dreary winter’s morning after the holidays, and it takes all your strength just to get out of bed, but it’s not just today— you’ve been feeling tired and run-down for more than a month. Unfortunately, fatigue is a nonspecific symptom that can occur for any number of reasons. One common cause is anemia. Here are a few things you should know about it.
What is anemia exactly, and how does it affect the body?
Anemia is a general term that refers to various conditions that affect red blood cells in a way that prevents the body from getting all the oxygen it needs, resulting in fatigue. This occurs any time there aren’t enough red blood cells with enough hemoglobin, a protein-based component of red blood cells that can properly hold on to oxygen. Symptoms of the common forms of anemia include tiredness, pale skin, trouble sleeping, dizziness, shortness of breath and fast heartbeat.
What are some common causes of the different types of anemia?
Red blood cells can be lost when a person has bleeding due to an undetected stomach ulcer, hemorrhoids, childbirth, heavy menstruation or some surgical procedures. One type of anemia is iron-deficiency anemia, where the body doesn’t have enough iron to make hemoglobin. The body also needs folic acid and vitamin B12 to make hemoglobin. Those who do not get enough meat or vegetables in their diet can sometimes be low in one or more of these three things.
If my doctor advises me to take iron supplements, what should I know about them?
The first thing to know is that iron is a metal and can be toxic at doses higher than recommended. Iron supplements come in different salt forms that each contain a different amount of elemental (actual) iron and are most easily taken orally as tablets. It is important that your doctor tell you how much elemental iron is being recommended so that when you go to the pharmacy counter your pharmacist can help you choose the right one for you.
Often, a doctor may recommend taking iron at a higher dose for three to six months to get the total body levels corrected, and then at a much lower regular dose or discontinued altogether based on blood-test results.
Iron supplements are absorbed into the body best on an empty stomach accompanied by some acidic juice, such as orange juice. Most stomach upset can be reduced by increasing the dose slowly to the prescribed dose and constipation can be managed by drinking plenty of water.
Where can I learn more?
In addition to whatever information your doctor, primary physican or pharmacist can provide, there are a number of valuable sources on the Internet. Two good ones are:
• National Anemia Action Council, www.anemia.org
• Keep Kids Healthy, www.keepkidshealthy.com