Red blood cells are important to the total composition of our whole blood. They carry hemoglobin, which in turn carries oxygen to all of our organs and cells in our body. Anemia occurs when the volume of red blood cells is lower than normal. Depending on the severity of the anemia, you may experience symptoms at rest or only when you exert physical energy. Some of the classic signs and symptoms of anemia are fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath.
Other signs of anemia include:
- Cold extremities
- Pale skin
- Fast or irregular heart rate
Anemia requires the heart to work faster and harder to pump enough oxygen-rich blood to all organs and cells within the body.
There are several types of anemia such as acute blood loss anemia, iron deficiency anemia, and sickle cell disease. The type is diagnosed based on the cause, such as inability to absorb essential vitamins, underlying disease such as chronic kidney failure, or inherent familial factors which can lead to sickle cell disease.
To avoid anemia, it’s important to have a diet adequate in iron, folic acid, vitamin B12, and vitamin C which all support the absorption of iron. Foods high in iron include:
- Fortified cereals and breads
- Red meat
- Dark green leafy vegetables
- Dried fruits
For more sources rich in iron, folic acid, B12 and vitamin C, check out this fact sheet from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Women in particular can become anemic during their reproductive years. Be sure to have a complete blood count test done with your yearly physical exam. As we age, it is very important to keep a healthy diet full of iron-rich foods and nutrients. If you’re found to be anemic, additional testing may be needed to find the underlying cause; it may be from blood loss occurring somewhere in the body. Be sure to see your healthcare provider and be certain there is a complete health history on record. Always make your provider aware of any changes in your physical health or mental well being.
You can learn more about anemia on the the NIH Heart Lung and Blood Institute website.