Causes of Anemia
One of the primary causes of anemia is iron deficiency. Without iron, hemoglobin is not properly formed, and without hemoglobin, the blood will not carry enough oxygen. Iron deficiency can occur if your diet does not contain enough iron rich foods, such as dairy products, eggs, meat, and other iron-fortified foods. Vegetarians are at a greater risk for anemia, since the iron from grains and vegetables is not absorbed as readily as the iron from meat.
An iron deficiency can also result if your body is unable to absorb iron from the foods that you eat. In normal digestion, we only absorb a small percentage of the iron we consume, so it is very important to include plenty of iron rich foods in the diet. Intestinal disorders, such as Crohn's and celiac disease, can further limit nutrient absorption in the intestines. Some of the prescription-strength stomach acid blockers prescribed for heartburn can also potentially interfere with iron absorption, as stomach acid is important to help convert the iron in your foods to iron that your body can use.
Because iron is carried in the blood, any kind of blood loss naturally results in lower overall iron levels. Any injury, internal bleeding, or even menstrual bleeding can result in significant iron deficiency and anemia. Certain bodily changes, such a growth spurts, pregnancy, and lactation can also boost red blood cell production, increasing the need for iron to make sure that there is sufficient hemoglobin to keep it oxygenated.
Anemia may also occur if there is destruction of the blood cells, also called hemolysis. In healthy blood, red blood cells circulate for three to four months before being broken down naturally and then removed from the system by the spleen. The bone marrow then replenishes the blood with new red blood cells. If there is an abnormal increase in the breakdown of red blood cells, this can lead to too few red blood cells in the circulatory system. This hemolytic type of anemia can be genetic, but can also be caused by vitamin deficiencies, toxins, infections, abnormal immune responses, and sensitivities to certain medications.
Conventional Treatment of Anemia
As anemia is most commonly linked directly to iron deficiency, patients are usually prescribed iron supplements. Vitamin C may also be recommended to increase iron absorption. Addition of iron rich foods to the diet is also suggested, though by the time a person has developed the symptoms of anemia, supplements are nearly always necessary. Correction of the iron deficiency will take time, as well, so these are considered long term therapies.
If the supplements do not increase the iron levels, it may indicate an iron absorption disorder or internal bleeding. In these cases, doctors may perform additional blood tests and medical exams, looking for peptic ulcers, bleeding polyps, or tumors, treating each as appropriate. If heavy menstruation is the source of anemia, oral contraceptives might be prescribed to reduce this monthly blood loss. In severe cases, blood transfusions may be recommended to replace the iron and hemoglobin.
Patients Medical's Treatment of Anemia
Before treating your anemia, we will go over your recent medical history with you in an initial hour long appointment, ensuring that we understand the level of the iron deficiency you may have. A physical exam and additional blood tests may be recommended, as we like to make certain that each treatment program is tailored specifically to the patient.
To help increase your iron levels, our doctors will outline a diet to promote greater nutritional balance, increasing the intake of iron rich foods and vitamin C, which will help aid in the absorption of iron. Natural herbal supplements containing iron, as well as other minerals and vitamins, will further restore blood iron levels and reduce the symptoms of anemia. Coffee, beer, soda, and foods containing oxalic acid (such as chocolate, kale, and most nuts and beans) will be reduced or eliminated from the diet, as they can interfere with iron absorption. In extreme cases, hyperbaric oxygen therapy may also be recommended.
Because restoration of iron levels in the blood will take some time, herbal supplements, such as ginseng, may be included in the therapy to help combat the fatigue associated with anemia. Depending on your case, massage therapy may be recommended to help improve circulation and promote red blood cell production. Gentle exercise programs incorporating yoga may also be recommended to help sustain muscle tone. Most iron deficiencies respond well to nutritional treatment and we will carefully monitor your condition to ensure that you are progressing toward greater physical health.
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We are located at: Patients Medical PC, 800 Second Avenue, Suite 900 (Between 42nd & 43rd Street), Manhattan, New York, NY 10017.