A common saying amongst many mothers is, “This child looks pale” while some others would say, “I think the child is running short of blood judging by a change in the child’s appearance.” One may wonder what sort of magical eyes those women possess that enables them identify decrease in blood level by mere looking at the child. Surprisingly, they are correct at certain instances while at other times, it is only an exaggeration.
The blood comprises different components like red blood cells (RBC), white blood cells (WBC), platelets, plasma, amongst others and each component has its own function. For example, the RBCs transport oxygen from the lungs to other tissues. It has a structure modified to carry out this function. The WBCs fight infections and maintain adequate immunity. The platelets are involved in wound healing.
Anaemia may be described as a decrease in red cell mass. This reduction may reflect as decreased haemoglobin concentrations (Hb) or packed cell volume (PCV). The fall in red blood cell mass may result from destruction of RBCs by medical conditions, decreased production of RBCs or loss of blood (for example, following trauma, heavy menstrual bleeding, gastrointestinal bleeding, child birth related haemorrhages and many others.)
When anaemia is observed, it gives an indication that there may be an underlying condition causing it, hence, it is usually referred to as being secondary to the causative condition. Generally, anaemia is not a common occurrence. However, there are certain factors that may increase an individual’s risk of developing anaemia. These include pregnancy, old age, malnutrition, eating disorders, sickle cell disease, thalassemia, infections (malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, pelvic inflammatory diseases, sexually transmitted infections and urinary tract infections to mention a few), complicated uterine fibroids, cancers, hookworm infestation and so on. Anaemia is common in women especially during the childbearing years which may be due to blood loss during menstruation and childbirth.
Anaemia may be regarded as mild, moderate or severe depending on the level of Hb or PCV obtained. It may also be classified in terms of the RBC size as normocytic (normal), microcytic (small) or macrocytic (large). One may also describe it as being acute or chronic considering the duration.
Individual’s with anaemia may complain of headaches, body pain or weakness, poor appetite, light-headedness, shortness of breath, feeling like passing out, awareness of the heartbeat or increased heartbeat. Due to the fact that anaemia has an underlying cause, the symptoms and signs noticed may also include those of the underlying cause. For instance, weight loss seen in (but not exclusive to) cancers, cough seen in tuberculosis, symptoms and signs of nutritional deficiencies as may be seen in malnutrition, palpable intrauterine mass as seen in uterine fibroids amongst many others.
For effective management of anaemia, a thorough medical evaluation which includes clinical history and examination, workup to identify the underlying cause and appropriate treatment of the identified factors is required. The medical practitioner will ask questions that tell more about the symptoms, request for relevant investigations to be carried out and then treat appropriately.
Early diagnosis and timely intervention improves outcome. Measures taken to correct anaemia may include dietary modification, medical or surgical intervention. Blood transfusion can be done in severe cases of anaemia. However, the modality to be used will be decided by the doctor after assessment.
Anaemia may be prevented by eating adequate diet that contains all classes of food and nutrients required by the body, treating infections promptly, early presentation to the hospital when symptoms are noticed to mention a few.