Are you anaemic? 5 things you need to know, now

Published: March 4, 2016
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Does it lately seem that you’re in the middle of a personal energy crunch? Do you need at least three (maybe four) cups of chai to make it through the workday? Maybe you simply need to log off Instagram earlier and get better sleep, or could something else entirely be to blame? Compiled from Prevention magazine, here are a couple facts you need to know about this often silent condition.

It’s a symptom, not a disease

Your red blood cells have a vital job — to carry oxygen throughout your body. If you have anaemia, it means you don’t have enough red blood cells or those cells don’t have enough haemoglobin (an iron-rich protein that turns blood red). The question is why? Dr Robert T Means, dean and professor of internal medicine at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, shares that being anaemic to having a fever — neither is a disease but rather a sign that something is going on in your body. An infection is usually what results in a fever, but anaemia can be caused by a host of different problems. The most common one is a shortage of iron, which your body needs to make haemoglobin. If you have so-called iron-deficiency anaemia, you’ll need to increase your levels of this essential mineral by taking supplements or eating more iron-rich foods such as red meat, daal and paalak.

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Most people are unaware

While some people with anaemia might feel super exhausted and sluggish most times of the day, others don’t even realise anything is different. If left unchecked, anaemia will worsen, and over time, you’ll become progressively more weak and fatigued as your heart tries to work harder and harder to pump blood and keep your tissues supplied with oxygen (which is why iron deficiency hurts fitness). Other symptoms include dizziness, headaches, numbness in your hands or feet, low body temperature, pale skin, shortness of breath, rapid or irregular heartbeat, chest pain, irritability, and not performing well at work or school. If anaemia isn’t treated, it can ultimately lead to heart failure so if you feel these symptoms sound familiar, visit a doctor and get your blood tested already.

Common in women, more dangerous for men

In women of childbearing age, anaemia, though it shouldn’t be ignored, is usually nothing serious simply because it’s so common and considered normal by physicians. It’s easy to become anaemic if you lose a lot of blood, either during childbirth, or excess bleeding — and therefore, fixing the problem tends to be equally straightforward — with supplements or, in rarer cases, iron shots should do the job. Men don’t get pregnant so developing iron-deficiency anaemia is much more of a cause for alarm; it’s usually a sign of a disease such as colon cancer. So, if you or a male loved one has signs of anaemia, you should advise them to see their physician ASAP to nib any problem there might be, in the bud.

Your caffeine habit is putting you at risk

Chai enthusiasts and coffee addicts, please pay attention — while you don’t have to give up that coveted cup (entire kettle) of coffee or tea, you’re better off indulging in these beloved beverages in between meals, because caffeine interferes with the absorption of iron from food. If your doctor has recommended iron supplements, make sure to have your cuppa at least an hour before or two hours after you pop your iron pill.

Anaemics have bizarre cravings

No, we’re not talking about decadent chocolate sundaes and gulaab jamun. Although nobody understands why, iron-deficiency anaemia can make you crave some peculiarly odd things, which doctors refer to as “pica”. The most common one that is reported is ice. “Many women can tell when they’re becoming anaemic simply because their desire to chew ice is so strong,” Dr Means shares. But it gets even stranger — some women might crave stuff like cardboard. And, fact is that it’s not uncommon for people to eat corn-starch, right out of the bag! Fortunately, the cravings disappear as soon as you start getting your iron levels back up. So, if you find yourself lurking around your ice tray or something odd, please don’t ignore it.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 5th, 2016.

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