Widely Used Methods for Treating Anemia

The most common blood disorder in the world, anemia is a condition in which a person has a deficiency in red blood cells, or hemoglobin. Because red blood cells are oxygenated, a decreased amount results in less oxygen to organs, often causing weariness, increased fatigue, accelerated heart rate, yellow skin, breathlessness, lightheadedness, chest pain, headache, and
cold hands and feet. The leading cause for anemia is iron deficiency. Without sufficient iron levels, the body cannot produce the hemoglobin needed to produce red blood cells. However, an iron deficiency is not the only type of anemia. There are over 400 types of anemia, among the other main types are:

  • Vitamin deficiency anemia due to low B12 for healthy red blood cell production.
  • Pernicious anemia, an autoimmune disease due to lack of the intrinsic factor that helps the body absorb vitamin B12 in the intestine.
  • Aplastic anemia, a life-threatening anemia that occurs when the body doesn’t produce adequate red blood cells.
  • Hemolytic anemias, where red blood cells are destroyed faster than bone marrow can replace them.
  • Sickle cell anemia, an inherited condition caused by a defective hemoglobin that makes abnormal crescent (sickle) shaped red blood cells that die prematurely.
  • Bone marrow anemias, such as leukemia or myelofibrosis.
  • Chronic anemia due to HIV/AIDS, kidney or crohn’s disease, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis.

The treatment options for anemia obviously vary per type and cause behind the disorder. The most used methods for treatments include:

1. Lifestyle changes
This involves becoming more active (i.e., regular exercise), following a healthier diet, and avoiding exposure to any chemicals that may have triggered the disorder. For vegans and vegetarians, consuming a diet high in plant iron sources (i.e., legumes, soy, grains, nuts and seeds).

2. Anemia medication
The type of medication given is matched with the specifications of the disorder. For instance, iron supplement or shots are given to patients who are iron deficient while vitamin B supplements or shots are given to patients with vitamin deficiency.

3. Blood formation injections
Blood formation is induced via erythropoietin-stimulating agents (or ESA) injection. Theses shots work by stimulating the production of red blood cells and once they are formed, the cells are released from the bone marrow into the bloodstream.

4. Red blood cell transfusions
Blood transfusions are administered in hospital to patients who experience blood loss. The patients who receive this treatment are usually actively bleeding, and/or have symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath. However, there are certain restrictions following the process, for instance, patients may only require a transfusion when they have a hemoglobin count of 8g/dL. In some instances, intravenous iron supplements (IV) are given to patients to introduce more iron into the bloodstream. While this method may be more costly and time-consuming, it is a more efficient method in treating the disorder.

If left untreated, anemia can become life-threatening, and lead to issues that can affect quality of life (i.e., excessive fatigue, too fast heart rate, and pregnancy complications).