BlessWorld Foundation International

Affecting the World Through Health
A Global Health Initiative

Global Health: Iron-deficiency Anemia



Anemia is the most common blood condition in the United States, affecting about 5.6% of the population. In Canada, approximately 3% of the population had anemia in 2015. People at higher risk of anemia include those with increased need for red blood cells such as young children, pregnant women and people with chronic diseases as well as people who suffer blood loss from internal bleeding, accident and menstruation. Common symptoms of anemia include fatigue, weakness, dizziness, drowsiness, irregular heartbeats, pale skin, cold and in severe cases, heart failure. There are various types of anemia but the most common types include:

Anemia is a medical condition marked by a lack of, or decrease in the number of red blood cells and hemoglobin. It is a disorder in which the number of red blood cells or their oxygen-carrying capacity is insufficient to meet the body’s daily physiologic needs. Red blood cells are produced in the bone marrow and their lifespan is about 120 days. They play an important role in human health by carrying fresh oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Hemoglobin is the protein contained in the red blood cells that makes them red and binds or carries the oxygen. Red blood cells also remove carbon dioxide from the body, transporting it to the lungs for exhalation. When the body has abnormal or insufficient healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin, the cells and organs in the body will not get enough oxygen to function properly.

  1. Iron-deficiency anemia: The body does not make sufficient red blood cells when the mineral, iron is lacking. Iron-deficiency anemia is the most common form of anemia and may be caused by low-iron diet, loss of blood, or inability to absorb enough iron from food.
  2. Sickle cell anemia: This is an inherited form of anemia where the red blood cells are abnormally shaped. In this disease, the red blood cells are shaped like sickles or half-moons rather than the normal indented circles. This change in shape makes the cells get stuck and unable to move smoothly through blood vessels causing blockage in blood flow. This blockage may cause acute or chronic pain and can also lead to infection or organ damage. These sickle cells also die much faster than normal blood cells- in about 10 to 20 days instead of 120 days, causing a shortage of red blood cells.
  3. Normocytic anemia: This type of anemia is caused by insufficient amount of red blood cells to meet the body’s needs. Diseases that cause this type of anemia are usually long-term conditions, like kidney disease, cancer, or rheumatoid arthritis.
  4. Hemolytic anemia: This occurs when the red blood cells are destroyed by an abnormal process in the body before their lifespan is over. As a result, the body doesn’t have enough red blood cells to function, and the bone marrow cannot make enough to keep up with the body’s demand.
  5. Fanconi anemia: This is a rare inherited disorder in which the bone marrow is unable to make enough of any of the components of blood, including red blood cells. Children born with this disorder often have serious birth defects because of the problems with their blood and may develop leukemia.
  6. Aplastic anemia: This form of anemia occurs when there is a significant reduction in the number of stem cells or absence of these cells. Aplastic anemia can either be inherited or occur without any apparent cause. It can also occur when the bone marrow is injured by medications, radiation, chemotherapy, or infection.
  7. Thalassemia: This occurs when red blood cells are unable to grow and mature properly. Thalassemia is an inherited condition typically affecting people of Mediterranean, African, Middle Eastern, and Southeast Asian descent. The condition varies in severity from mild to life-threatening, where the most severe form is called Cooley’s anemia.

Unfortunately, the genetic and inherited forms of anemia cannot be treated. However, iron-deficiency anemia, which is the most common type, can be prevented or treatable with high iron diet and iron supplements. The risk of iron-deficiency anemia can be reduced by choosing iron-rich foods such as red meat, pork, poultry, seafood, beans, dark green leafy vegetables, iron-fortified cereals, breads and pastas. Additionally, foods containing vitamin C such as citrus juice are important to enhance iron absorption.

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