Thursday, April 2, 2009 | 5:25 am

Anemia is the term applied to any condition in which the concentration of hemoglobin (the red oxygen-carrying pigment) in the blood is below normal. It is rarely a disease in itself and is nearly always caused by something else, such as bleeding, a deficiency, kidney trouble, an infection, or cancer. So important is this point that Hospital Practice recently saw fit to highlight it in an editorial.

Most anemias, fortunately, turn out to be nothing more serious than iron deficiency, a condition that can usually be corrected with medication. Some cases of iron deficiency, however, result from bleeding — the cause of which is not always easy to find. A bleeding gastric ulcer is usually obvious because of associated indigestion and abdominal pain, but bleeding from cancer of the colon can be without symptoms until the tumor is far advanced. In civilized countries, most iron-deficiency anemia is caused by heavy menstrual bleeding in women who don’t take enough iron to make up for it. In the tropics, iron deficiency more often results from intestinal worms, which steal the patient’s blood.

Other types of anemia are due to decreased production of red cells (which carry the hemoglobin in the blood) or to an increase in their rate of destruction. Every day, about 1 percent of our red blood cells wear out and are replaced by new ones from the bone marrow, and anemia results whenever this balance is disturbed. Any one of a great number of conditions, including infections (such as syphilis, tuberculosis, or malaria), thyroid trouble, kidney problems, leukemia, poisons, or dietary deficiencies can increase the destruction or decrease the production of red cells.

Anemia, therefore, is like the tip of an iceberg and must always be taken seriously as a clue to illness. Simple iron and vitamin remedies should not be used in its treatment routinely but only after the major serious causes have been ruled out. If you become anemic, your physician may need to run many tests on you. Cooperate fully, because it’s in your best interests.


(posted in General health)

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