KENILWORTH, N.J., March 5, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- More than three million Americans suffer from some form of anemia, a condition caused by insufficient hemoglobin in a person's red blood cells, or a low red blood cell count. It's the most common blood condition in the country, yet one critical aspect is commonly misunderstood ? the fact that anemia is a symptom of an underlying condition, not a standalone disease.
To provide clarity around this condition, Evan Braunstein, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Johns Hopkins School of Medicine's Division of Hematology, discusses why it's crucial for patients to determine the underlying cause of their anemia in a new editorial on MerckManuals.com.
Dr. Braunstein's editorial highlights four things that everyone should know about anemia:
1. Anemia is a sign of another condition
Anemia is the result of some underlying disease or condition, similar to a fever. A fever is a tell-tale sign of another condition ? perhaps a virus or bacterial infection. When doctors see a patient with a fever, it's a sign that something else is wrong in the body, and they immediately start trying to figure out what is causing the fever. The same is true of anemia.
There are dozens of causes of anemia ranging from relatively minor things such as an imbalanced diet to serious problems such as cancer. Iron-deficiency anemia, one of the most common types of anemia, can have a number of causes including heavy menstruation, celiac disease, pregnancy, colon cancer or simply not getting enough iron in your diet.
2. The symptoms of anemia are quite common (except for one)
There is a range of normal red blood cell and hemoglobin counts, and different people start to experience symptoms at different levels. By and large, fatigue is the most common sign of anemia. More concerning symptoms include looking more pale than normal and experiencing shortness of breath with a low level of exertion.
One unusual symptom is known as pica. It's characterized by chewing and eating things that are not food, like ice, cardboard or dirt. It appears to be more common in people with nutrient deficiencies.
Monitoring for the symptoms of whatever is causing the anemia is critical as well. For example, symptoms of colon cancer can include unexpected weight loss and blood in stool.
3. Doctors don't screen for anemia
Unlike cholesterol and blood pressure, anemia isn't part of routine screening. Instead, doctors will often order blood tests (called a complete blood count) if people complain of symptoms like fatigue.
If results of that blood workup reveal low hemoglobin, ongoing tests for changes in hemoglobin levels or red blood cell counts may be needed.
4. "Mild" anemia can still be serious
Anemia usually comes on slowly, often over weeks or months. That means that even anemias caused by a serious problem, like cancer, may show up very mildly at first. However, the severity of the anemia doesn't always match the significance of its cause. Determining the underlying cause is the key to treating anemia.
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