What is anemia?
Anemia is defined as the condition of not having enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body, and there are many, many forms of it. Some people, like those suffering from conditions like sickle cell anemia or thalassemia, are anemic from birth; their bodies genetically inherit difficulty producing red blood cells or specific parts of red blood cells. But the greatest portion of the approximately 3.5 million Americans suffering from anemia become anemic over time through not consuming enough iron or vitamin B12, both of which, along with folate, are necessary for the production of healthy red blood cells. Read on for the symptoms of anemia you need to know about. These are signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency.
You’re short of breath or dizzy often
Without enough iron or vitamin B12, the body cannot produce enough of a specific type of protein called hemoglobin, which is crucial to the functioning of red blood cells. Hemoglobin, which is so rich with iron that it gives blood its red color, allows oxygen to bond to the cells so the cells can carry it in the bloodstream throughout the body. When there isn’t enough iron or vitamin B12 to create adequate amounts of hemoglobin, some parts of the body will not receive the oxygen they need. The result: one of the symptoms of anemia is that you’re out of breath easily, and sometimes getting so little oxygen to your head that you feel dizzy or lightheaded. Anemia is also one of the many symptoms of colon cancer you need to watch out for.
You’re just soooooo darn tired
University of Chicago Associate Professor of Medicine Andrew Artz, MD, says one of the most common (and prominent) symptoms of anemia is a general feeling of exhaustion. “Fatigue is the predominant symptom,” Dr. Artz says. “The challenge of the symptom of fatigue is that every person has a different experience of how they notice it. Some will simply feel more tired, others will feel it with activity.” The tiredness is caused by the same process that leads to shortness of breath and dizziness: without enough iron or vitamin B12, there’s not enough hemoglobin, and without enough hemoglobin, there’s not enough oxygen to fuel the body. Here are other possible medical causes of fatigue.
Your skin is looking more pale
If you don’t have the healthy red blood cells to fuel your organs with oxygen, you can’t expect your largest organ (your skin) to look healthy. Without iron or vitamin B12, there might not be enough blood supply to the skin, resulting in a paler, and even yellow-looking, exterior, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Here are other ailments that show themselves in your face.
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You feel pain in your chest
When there are fewer healthy red blood cells circulating, the heart has to work even harder to move them through the body. As a result, the heart beats faster than normal and you may start to feel the strain as chest pain. This is not a problem to dismiss, especially if you have other heart problems. A 2005 study published in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, showed that the likelihood of adverse cardiovascular events or even death increased in anemic patients with acute coronary syndromes versus non-anemic patients with acute coronary syndromes, resulting in the researchers pronouncing anemia “a powerful and independent predictor” of cardiovascular problems for patients. Learn how to recognize the signs of a heart attack.
You’re pregnant or losing a lot of blood
Maybe you’re consuming what would normally be an adequate amount of iron, but you’re anemic because you’re losing blood for a different reason. Pregnant women are especially susceptible to anemia because the body must produce much more blood than normal to support the growth and development of a baby, and without enough iron, vitamin B12, or folate, there are fewer healthy red blood cells that can be made. However, women who aren’t pregnant, men, and even children experiencing gastrointestinal conditions, such as ulcers, hemorrhoids, inflammation of the stomach, and cancer can have increased risk of anemia if their health conditions cause chronic bleeding.
You eat a vegan diet
Because iron is in soy beans, dark green leafy vegetables, and tofu in addition to lean red meat, vegans and vegetarians can still consume the amount of iron their body needs. However, Chicago-based dietitian Allegra Burton says it’s impossible to get vitamin B12 from plant sources. As a result, the only way for those with vegan diets to consume an adequate amount of vitamin B12 is to regularly take a supplement, something she recommends all vegan eaters do. These are the iron-rich foods every vegetarian should eat.
You’re craving ice cubes and other strange snacks
Perhaps one of the most unusual symptoms of anemia, in particular, is pica, or the tendency to crave non-nutritional items like ice cubes, baking soda, clay, or even pencils or dried paint. Even more interesting is that doctors and researchers still don’t know why patients crave chewing or eating such unusual food substances. However, Dr. Artz says it’s a very common symptom of iron-deficiency anemia.
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So what do you do if you’re anemic?
If you’re experiencing some of these symptoms of anemia and think that you might be anemic, it’s important to consult a doctor for an evaluation to discern exactly which type of anemia you have, and what you should do to cure it. Dr. Artz warns against purchasing any over-the-counter anemia combatant, because there is not a catch-all cure for all forms of anemia. The key is understanding the cause and the deficiency, so you can work with your doctor or a dietitian to remedy your diet.