The winter season often leads to the “winter blahs” – you may feel tired all the time, experience lack of motivation to perform normal daily activities and just be overall lethargic. Oh, and don’t forget the ghost-like appearance your skin takes on due to lack of sunshine! But what if all these symptoms are more than just the winter blahs? Take careful note – such inconspicuous health signals could be an indication of Anemia.What exactly is Anemia?
The anemias are a group of disorders of the blood which decrease the amount of oxygen delivered to the body’s organs. This causes the red blood cells and hemoglobin to be diminished in the blood (hemoglobin is the red protein in the blood which delivers the oxygen and carries away the carbon dioxide waste).
Anemia is the most common blood condition in the U.S., affecting about 3.5 million Americans. Women and individuals with chronic diseases are at increased risk of anemia.
There are several different types of anemia, but the most common types share many of the same symptoms. However, these symptoms are very subtle – particularly in the initial stages, so it’s important to pay attention to the early warning signs.
Types of AnemiaIron-deficiency Anemia
- Abnormally pale skin
- Unusually rapid heartbeat
- Fatigue and loss of energy
- Shortness of breath while exercising
- Difficulty concentrating
Iron-deficiency anemia is the world’s most common nutritional disorder. Bone marrow in the center of the bone needs iron to make hemoglobin, the part of the red blood cell that transports oxygen to the body's organs. Without adequate iron, the body cannot produce enough hemoglobin for red blood cells. So - why might your body not be getting enough iron?
Pernicious Anemia and Folic Acid Anemia
- An iron-poor diet, especially in infants, children, teens and vegetarians
- The metabolic demands of pregnancy and breastfeeding that deplete a woman's iron stores
- Frequent blood donation
- Endurance training
- Digestive conditions such as Crohn's disease or surgical removal of part of the stomach or small intestine
- Certain drugs, foods, and caffeinated drinks
Pernicious anemia occurs when your body is not getting enough vitamin B-12 in your diet, or if you are getting enough of the vitamin but your body can’t absorb it. Pernicious anemia may also be hereditary in nature, so if you know of a family member who has the condition you should request a blood test to determine if you also are at risk.
Extreme vegetarians and vegans may be more at risk for pernicious anemia because B-12 occurs mostly in animal foods. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, be sure to get enough B-12 through other means such as foods fortified with B-12 and nutritional supplements.
In addition to the symptoms listed above, individuals suffering from pernicious anemia may also experience a sore tongue, low appetite, loss of weight and numbness in hands and feet.
Like pernicious anemia, sufferers of folic acid anemia are missing the B vitamin folate. Overcooking or eating too few vegetables (including leafy green vegetables such as spinach and turnip greens) can lead to folic acid anemia. Folic acid is easy to add to your diet through fortified foods and supplements.Sickle Cell Anemia
Sickle cell anemia is actually a result of the much more dangerous condition, sickle cell disease. Sickle cell disease is a genetic disorder (found mostly in African-Americans and Africans, although other ethnic groups may also be affected) in which the body’s red blood cells change shape and break down rapidly, so oxygen cannot get to the body's organs. The crescent-shaped red blood cells also get stuck in tiny blood vessels. The result is severe pain, blood blockage in the spleen or liver and swelling/inflammation of the joints.
While the other types of anemia listed above can generally be resolved by altering one’s diet, there is no cure for sickle cell disease or the anemia that results. The disorder can be treated with medications based on an individual’s symptoms; unfortunately sufferers of the disease often do not live past their 40’s.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, take note of them and visit your doctor. A simple blood test can reveal if you have anemia or if it really is just the winter blahs.