Feeling fatigued? It could be anemia

This post was written by Angela LaSalle, MD, PPG – Integrative Medicine.

Are you feeling tired? Are your muscles feeling heavy, skin pale, trouble concentrating? If so, you might want to have your physician check for anemia.

Anemia – low hemoglobin levels in the blood – reduces the body’s capacity to deliver oxygen to your tissues. This can affect energy, brain function, stamina, hair loss and your sleep, causing restless legs. If severe, the internal organs may be damaged as the body overworks to try to keep up with the oxygen needs of the body. The heart, which is responsible for pumping oxygen-rich blood to the body, may be severely overworked, compromising its function. However, in most cases, anemia is frequently diagnosed during a workup for more minor symptoms, the most common being fatigue. Because the symptoms can be subtle, anemia can frequently be overlooked.

Diagnosis

Anemia can be diagnosed by a blood test called a complete blood count (CBC). This measures the number of red and white blood cells, platelet count and hemoglobin. It also measures the size of your red blood cells.

There are different types and causes of anemia. Blood loss through heavy menstrual periods, hidden or visible bleeding from the GI tract, and underproduction of cells from the bone marrow are potential causes. Anemia can also, and most commonly, be from nutritional depletion. Poor intake of iron, B vitamins, and minerals such as zinc and copper, can make it difficult for the body to keep up with the production of the red blood cells.

Hemoglobin, the molecule that carries oxygen in the blood is carried by the red blood cells. Iron in particular is needed for the production of hemoglobin, thus low iron levels is the most common nutrient deficiency associated with anemia.

Treatment

Treatment for anemia is dependent on the type of anemia diagnosed. If the condition is related to low iron levels, taking an iron supplement and increasing the amount of foods in the diet containing iron may correct it within weeks. Eating a diet rich in vegetables and lean proteins is one of the best ways to protect against nutrition related anemias.

If you have heavy menstrual cycles, have been fatigued or suspect that you might be anemic, consult with your doctor. He or she can check the appropriate blood work and can guide you toward the right treatment for you.

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