Chronic Anemia is a term that means a “low blood count” (insufficient red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body) because of an underlying disease or condition. Anemia is a finding related to the underlying cause rather than a primary condition.
There are several different conditions that cause Anemia:
- Blood loss anemia (iron deficiency) – May be caused by ulcers, colon cancer, less commonly broken blood vessels in the gut, or excessive menstrual flow.
- Inadequate nutrition or malabsorption (insufficient processing of iron in the intestinal tract) can also result in nutritional iron deficiency.
- Large red blood cell (macrocytic) anemia – Characterized by inadequate vitamin B12, lack of folic acid in the diet or severe liver disease.
- Bone marrow failure – A variety of complications in the bone marrow, where red blood cells are produced.
- Hemolytic (red cell destruction) anemia – Caused by certain immune disorders and drugs that attack red blood cells.
- Chronic kidney disease – Lack of a particular hormone produced by the kidney causing inadequate red blood cell production.
- Chronic illness and malignancies – The result of various types of malignancies, leukemias and chronic disorders.
Patients with anemia may have dark or bloody stools, rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, pale or cold skin, fatigue, irritability, chest or abdominal pain, headache, sore tongue, brittle nails, weight loss, unusual food cravings or weakness, dizziness or passing out when standing up.
Your physician may order blood studies to measure levels of iron, vitamin B12 and folic acid. Other common tests include X-rays, ultrasound, CT scan, endoscopy (a thin, flexible scope inserted through the mouth) or a colonoscopy (a flexible, lighted scope inserted through the rectum).
Successful treatment of the primary disease or condition generally cures anemia. Your physician may also prescribe oral iron supplements. You may need to avoid dairy products and antacids when taking supplements since they can interfere with iron absorption. Vitamin C can help increase absorption. Good nutritional sources of iron are raisins, meat (especially liver), fish, poultry, egg yolk, peas, beans, and whole grain breads.
Discomfort from symptoms is the primary complication in most cases. Heart and lung disease as well as other pre-existing conditions may be worsened by anemia.