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Anaemia: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

May 3, 2023

General wellbeing

Portrait of middle aged woman with wavy grey hair and scarf against blue background

What is Anaemia

Anaemia is a medical condition characterised by a decrease in the number of red blood cells or the amount of haemoglobin in the blood. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including nutritional deficiencies, chronic diseases, and genetic disorders.

Causes of Anaemia

Anaemia can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  1. Iron deficiency: Iron is essential for the production of haemoglobin, and a lack of iron in the diet or an inability to absorb iron can lead to iron-deficiency anaemia.
  2. Vitamin deficiency: Vitamins such as folate, vitamin B12, and vitamin C are also important for red blood cell production. A deficiency in any of these vitamins can lead to anaemia.
  3. Chronic diseases: Certain chronic diseases, such as kidney disease, cancer, and HIV/AIDS can affect the body’s ability to produce red blood cells.
  4. Blood loss: Anaemia can also be caused by blood loss, such as from heavy menstrual periods, surgery, or injury.
  5. Inherited disorders: Some inherited disorders, such as sickle cell anaemia and thalassemia, can affect the production of haemoglobin.
  6. Pregnancy: Pregnant women may develop anaemia due to an increased need for iron and other nutrients.
  7. Medication: Some medications, such as chemotherapy drugs and certain antibiotics, can affect red blood cell production and lead to anaemia.

It’s important to identify the underlying cause of anaemia in order to determine the most effective treatment approach. Your healthcare provider can help diagnose and treat anaemia.

Symptoms of Anaemia

The symptoms of anaemia may vary depending on the underlying cause and the severity of the condition, but common symptoms include:

  1. Fatigue and weakness
  2. Shortness of breath
  3. Dizziness or lightheadedness
  4. Headaches
  5. Pale skin
  6. Chest pain
  7. Cold hands and feet
  8. Irregular heartbeat
  9. Restless legs syndrome
  10. Difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly

Other symptoms may include brittle nails, decreased appetite, and a sore or inflamed tongue. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to consult your healthcare provider for an evaluation and diagnosis.

How to Prevent Anaemia

There are several ways to prevent anaemia, including:

  1. Eat a healthy and balanced diet: Include foods that are rich in iron, vitamin B12, and folate, such as red meat, poultry, fish, beans, lentils, dark green leafy vegetables, and fortified cereals.
  2. Avoid excessive tea and coffee: Excessive tea and coffee intake can interfere with iron absorption, so it’s best to limit your intake.
  3. Take iron supplements: If you have been diagnosed with iron-deficiency anaemia, your healthcare provider may recommend iron supplements to help increase your iron levels. It’s important you take these as directed as too much iron can be harmful. 
  4. Increase vitamin C intake: Vitamin C can help increase the absorption of iron from plant-based sources, so try to include foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes, and bell peppers in your diet, or take your supplement with a glass of fresh orange juice.
  5. Get regular check-ups: Regular check-ups can help identify and treat anaemia early before it becomes more severe.

Treatment Options for Anaemia

The treatment for anaemia will depend on the underlying cause of the condition. Some common treatments include:

  1. Iron supplements: If the anaemia is caused by iron deficiency, iron supplements may be prescribed to increase the levels of iron in the body.
  2. Vitamin supplements: If the anaemia is caused by a deficiency in vitamin B12 or folate, supplements of these vitamins may be prescribed.
  3. Iron Infusions: In some cases your doctor may recommend an iron infusion.
  4. Blood transfusions: In severe cases of anaemia, a blood transfusion may be necessary to replenish the red blood cell count.
  5. Medications: Depending on the underlying cause of anaemia, medications, such as corticosteroids, may be prescribed to manage the condition and improve red blood cell production.
  6. Lifestyle changes: Eating a healthy diet that is rich in iron and other nutrients can help improve anaemia, as can managing any underlying conditions that may be contributing to the anaemia.

It’s important to work with your healthcare provider to identify the underlying cause of anaemia and develop a treatment plan that is tailored to your individual needs. In some cases, treating the underlying cause may be enough to resolve the anaemia, while in other cases, ongoing treatment may be necessary to manage the condition.

Anaemia is a common problem, NICE estimates that the UK prevalence of anaemia is estimated to be 23% in pregnant women and 14% in non-pregnant women[1]. As you can see this is easily corrected if it’s found. Our at home finger-prick blood testing can deliver these answers in 3 easy steps.

This information has been medically written by Dr Thom Phillips

Thom works in NHS general practice and has a decade of experience working in both male and female elite sport. He has a background in exercise physiology and has published research into fatigue biomarkers.

Dr Thom Phillips

Dr Thom Phillips

Head of Clinical Services