Red blood cells
They are like sacs filled with a protein called hemoglobin that has the peculiarity of easily binding to certain gases like oxygen and CO2 (carbon dioxide). Erythrocytes are continually traveling, thanks to the circulatory impulse of the heart, from the lungs where oxygen collects to the tissues where the cells require that oxygen for the energy-producing metabolism and also need to get rid of their main metabolic residue which is the Carbon dioxide (CO2). The cycle of oxygenation of a red blood cell thus begins in the lung. There, when it passes through the pulmonary capillaries, it receives oxygen. After that it travels to the different tissues. When it reaches the capillaries of these tissues the hematíe releases the oxygen on the cells with which it crosses, remaining at the same time with the CO2 that they give off. When the red blood cell returns to the lungs it gets rid of that CO 2 that will be eliminated in the expiration being thus again available to reconnect oxygen and start a new cycle of oxygenation.
White blood cells or leukocytes
To this group belong all those cells in charge of defending us from the foreign agents that can injure our tissues as they are the viruses and the bacteria, among others, when they find occasion to infect us. In this group are, for example, granulocytes (classifiable in neutrophils, basophils and eosinophils), monocytes and lymphocytes.
They are like tiles or bricks in charge of plugging the ruptures that may be in the blood vessels and through which the blood would escape. They are essential for the complete process of coagulation to be carried out and thus prevent us from bleeding when we suffer injuries.
All these cells are born in the complex organ that makes blood cells that is the bone marrow, which is found inside the bones of the trunk in a healthy adult. These cells are of limited life, so there is a continuous renewal of the same by the body and it is necessary that hundreds of thousands occur every day so that anemia, leukopenia (deficit of white blood cells), or thrombocytopenia ( Platelet deficiency).
What is anemia?
Explaining what anemia means requires you to start by understanding what blood is and what its role is. Blood is a tissue of the human body, composed of cells like the others, but is in a liquid state precisely because of the very important function it has to serve as a means of communication and transport of all the substances necessary to maintain supplies and in Correct functioning all our organs.
What is iron deficiency anemia?
Iron is part of the heart of hemoglobin being a key element in the binding of this protein to oxygen.
When the organism has little availability of iron because the minimum necessary is not absorbed by the digestive system or because we lose it in excess, an insufficient amount of hemoglobin is produced and less red blood cells are produced, or red cells of inferior quality, reason why there is a Impairment of the overall ability of the blood to perform its important oxygenating function in the tissues. This is called iron deficiency anemia.
However, iron is not the only essential element in the manufacture of red blood cells by the bone marrow. You also need two vitamins, vitamin B12 and folic acid. The lack of at least one of them, also causes anemia but this one is of another type.
What are the main causes of iron deficiency?
Children, athletes, pregnant women and mothers during breastfeeding have higher iron needs than other people. In children, this happens because it is in a time of growth and to realize a greater expenditure of energy; In athletes, the reason lies in the increased energy consumption and physical wear due to sports practice, and in pregnant and lactating women due to the increase of nutrient requirements in general for the correct development of the baby. The deficiency Of iron in these three groups of people is usually due to an insufficient supply of iron that does not provide them with the minimum amount that they specifically need.
Strictly vegetarian people can also suffer from iron deficiency anemia by voluntarily depriving themselves of meat, which is a key food for a correct daily intake of iron. In other people, however, the cause of an iron deficiency is usually an excessive loss of blood, either periodically or momentarily, which the bone marrow is not able to completely compensate for. Women of childbearing potential with prolonged or heavy menstruation, and especially if they are smokers, are especially prone to this excessive loss of iron.
Sustained but inadvertent hemorrhages of any type, but mainly digestive, by lesions of the digestive mucosa such as gastroduodenal ulcer or others, or due to bleeding of tumors are benign (intestinal polyps) or malignant (colon cancer, etc.). ) Are also other possible causes of iron loss, especially in the elderly. Therefore, in the diagnosis of anemia, it is very important that the specific cause of the blood loss is clearly established, in order to exclude those serious processes (tumors, digestive haemorrhages …) in which treatment of the cause is essential and In which anemia is only an added consequence of the underlying disease.
Another cause of iron deficiency is its digestive malabsorption. This occurs in some less frequent diseases such as celiac disease (intestinal atrophy due to gluten intolerance), Crohn’s disease (inflammatory bowel disease), or achlorhydria (deficient secretion of acid-peptic juice in the stomach), as well as In some patients gastrectomized (extirpation of an important part of the stomach).
What are the symptoms of iron deficiency anemia?
Iron deficiency anemia tends to have a chronic form of evolution, so the body usually has time to put into play certain compensatory mechanisms of anemia that prevent the problem from being evident from the beginning. Therefore, the symptoms of this type of anemia do not appear in the person until the hemoglobin level is not very low, of 9 g / dl or less, when the normal level is superior to 11 g / dl in any person.
At this point the person acquires a pale appearance and presents great tendency to drowsiness, resulting in a continuous feeling of fatigue and a less tolerance to physical effort. If anemia worsens, palpitations (unpleasant feeling of the heartbeat), dizziness, intermittent claudication (pain in the legs when walking due to insufficient blood flow), respiratory failure and even angina of heart (pain due to heart suffering similar to that of infarction ).
But before all this there are certain signs and symptoms that appear in some people suffering from this type of anemia such as: the most profuse fall of hair and greater fragility of it, as well as the nails, sores on the lips and Mouth, inflammation of the tongue (glossitis) and mucosa of the mouth (stomatitis), dryness of the throat and with it also the difficulty to swallow food. There may also be “pica” (compulsive tendency to ingest a specific type of food, such as licorice, or ice, etc.)
When the evolution of this anemia is prolonged, abnormal and permanent changes in the esophageal mucosa (Plummer-Vinson syndrome) may occur, which may serve as a future seat for cancerous lesions.
How does the doctor diagnose iron deficiency anemia?
The best tool to diagnose anemia, regardless of whether the physician is able to identify the signs described above characteristic of this disease, is an elementary blood test with a blood count (analysis of the amount of hemoglobin and of the count and classification of all blood cells). Anemia is diagnosed when the hemoglobin level is below 12 g / dl in women and 13 g / dl in men. In iron deficiency anemia the red blood cells are smaller and pale under a microscope, and of a more varied size.
Finally, to confirm the definitive diagnosis, it is necessary to carry out a study analysis of the iron in the organism (levels of blood iron, transferrin, ferritin, etc.) with which to verify its deficit.
What treatment does iron deficiency anemia have?
First, it is essential, if this is possible, to specifically address the specific cause of the iron deficiency, for which it is very important to carry out a good questioning of the patient and a correct physical examination. Causes such as intestinal malabsorption, chronic inadvertent hemorrhages, or insufficient supply of iron in the diet have a different treatment depending on the case.
However, while trying to correct the cause, it is often necessary for the patient to take iron supplements to try to give him the iron he needs. After a few weeks with this treatment, and having controlled the cause that caused the deficit, anemia usually disappears, which is verified with the reestablishment of normality in a control analysis after three or six months since it started the treatment, and that the doctor must prescribe to monitor the proper evolution of the patient.
Iron tablets are better absorbed if they are accompanied by vitamin C and on an empty stomach, but may irritate some people, so it may be necessary to eat them with meals. They also often dye black stools.
How to prevent iron deficiency anemia?
The best way to prevent this type of anemia is to avoid reaching the iron deficiency situation. For this it is advisable to take a healthy and varied diet in which there are no shortage of foods rich in iron such as meats, legumes, whole wheat bread, eggs, cereals and nuts. People with greater physical exhaustion due to their activity as children or athletes should be especially careful with their food as well as women with heavy menstrual periods or those who are pregnant or are breastfeeding. These groups of people at greater risk for iron deficiency anemia, and especially pregnant women, may even require prophylactic iron supplements to prevent the onset of anemia even if they are perfectly well.
Finally, we must not forget that an important fatigue without justifiable cause or excessive pallor, as well as the loss of spontaneous blood by any unexpected route (feces, urine, cough sputum, vomiting) must always be consulted immediately with the doctor header.
Other types of anemia
Anemia can occur not only because of iron deficiency:
- For folic acid deficiency
- For vitamin B12 deficiency