Anaemia affects many of us and the symptoms are all too common - always tired, can't be bothered to do things, feeling faint, headaches and breathlessness. But there are some unusual causes of anaemia that can make it go undiagnosed for a long time.
The science bit
Red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to every part of the body, but when there aren't enough red cells the body doesn't get the oxygen it needs - this is the cause of anaemia.
There are actually seven different types of anaemia, but of all of them Iron Deficiency Anaemia (IDA) is the most common. It is most often caused by excessive blood loss due to heavy menstruation. A huge 57,234 patients were admitted to hospital last year suffering from IDA, costing the NHS a staggering £55.5 million. According to the Ferronomics Report by Vifor Pharma, published in June this year, many of these admissions are avoidable. Doctors are now being urged to treat all patients with iron replacement therapy first and if they do not respond to treatment to then refer them for further investigation for conditions like Coeliac and Inflammatory Bowel disorders. The hope is that this will dramatically reduce the number of hospital admissions and see patients diagnosed correctly and treated appropriately.
If the 6 reasons below sound like you go and speak to your GP about anaemia.
1. Do you have chronic indigestion?Antacids used to stop the pain and discomfort of indigestion can often
interfere with the body's absorption of iron and lead to gradually
worsening anaemia. The level of iron in the blood falls and then you
start to use up the iron stores.
2. Do you suffer from constipation?Few people realise that constipation
is a frequent cause of anaemia, not because of the condition, but as a
result of the treatment. Everyone knows that fibre can ease the problem,
but the type of fibre you choose is critical.
There's a lot of hype about bran and high-bran cereals, but for some
people wheat bran actually irritates the bowel lining, and it also
reduces the amount of iron that is absorbed from other foods.
If you don't think it's helping you, opt for the smoothage in oats,
brown rice and root vegetables. A common consequence of constipation is
the development of piles which may cause blood loss.
3. Do you have an ulcer or hiatus hernia?The drugs used for ulcers and a hiatus hernia - usually Tagamet, Zantac and Omeprazole - can reduce the amount of iron you get into the body. Don't just take iron supplements though, as they can interfere with the benefits of the drugs themselves.
4. Do you drink lots of tea and coffee?Drink too much tea and coffee too often and the risk of anaemia increases. General advice is not to drink tea or coffee at mealtimes or for half an hour afterwards. This is because the polyphenols in tea and coffee reduce the amount of iron that can be absorbed from food.
The more you drink, the lower your iron stores and though this may not
cause anaemia directly, there is a more serious problem if you have any
of the other risk factors.
5. Have you got arthritis?Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are widely prescribed or bought over the counter for the relief of chronic joint and muscle pain.
Unfortunately, long-term use can damage the lining of the stomach
causing small, but persistent blood loss. This inevitably results in
6. Do you take supplements?Some supplements reduce the ability to absorb and store iron. Zinc and
iron can interfere with each other and large doses of zinc taken on an
empty stomach can significantly reduce iron absorption, and vice versa.
Calcium supplements can do the same, so make sure you take calcium and
zinc at bed time, as far away from iron rich foods as possible.
Soy is another problem, as the protein and calcium it contains binds
with iron from other non-meat foods. But vitamins A, B2, C and
beta-carotene can all help to boost your iron levels.
It's not a good idea to start taking iron supplements unless you know
the cause of the problem. Extra iron may improve the symptoms but could
leave underlying problems to get worse and can also mask the symptoms
and lead to unreliable results of blood tests.
You could also have a serious bowel problem such as Crohn's, coeliac or diverticulitis. So see your GP for a proper diagnosis.
Did you know?Cooking improves iron uptake from some vegetables, notably asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, red, green and yellow peppers, but this advantage is lost if you refrigerate the cooked veg.
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