One of the most common anemias, iron-deficiency anemia, is caused by insufficient iron, an element essential for the formation of hemoglobin in the erythrocytes. In most adults (except pregnant women) the cause is chronic blood loss rather than insufficient iron in the diet, and, therefore, the treatment includes locating the source of abnormal bleeding in addition to the administration of iron.
Pernicious anemia causes an increased production of erythrocytes that are structurally abnormal and have attenuated life spans. This condition rarely occurs before age 35 and is inherited, being more prevalent among persons of Scandinavian, Irish, and English extraction. It is caused by the inability of the body to absorb vitamin B12 (which is essential for the maturation of erythrocytes).
There are several conditions that cause the destruction of erythrocytes, thereby producing anemia. Allergic-type reactions to bacterial toxins and various chemical agents, among them sulfonamides and benzene, can cause hemolysis, which requires emergency treatment. In addition, there are unusual situations in which the body produces antibodies against its own erythrocytes; the mechanism triggering such reactions remains obscure.
There are several inherited anemias that are more common among dark-skinned people. Sickle cell disease is inherited as a recessive trait almost exclusively among blacks; the condition is characterized by a chemical abnormality of the hemoglobin molecule that causes the erythrocytes to be misshapen. In 1957 Vernon Ingram determined the amino acid sequence of hemoglobin, and found the beta-globins (which is one of the two polypeptide chain types) that are found in the tetrameric (four-chain) hemoglobin protein. In sickle cell disease a single mutation produces the amino acid valine instead of glutamic acid in one of the protein chain types that make up the hemoglobin molecule.
In thalassemia major (Cooley's anemia), which is the most serious of the hereditary anemias among people of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and S Chinese ancestry, the erythrocytes are abnormally shaped. Symptoms include enlarged liver and spleen and jaundice. Thalassemia major usually causes death before adulthood is reached.
Any disease or injury to the bone marrow can cause anemia, since that tissue is the site of erythrocyte synthesis. Bone marrow destruction can also be caused by irradiation, disease, or various chemical agents. In cases of renal dysfunction, the severity of the associated anemia correlates highly with the extent of the dysfunction; it is treated with genetically engineered erythropoietin.
Anemia (AmE) or anæmia/anaemia (BrE) (from the Ancient Greek Ἀναιμία anaîmia, meaning “without blood”) is defined as a qualitative or quantitative deficiency of hemoglobin, a molecule found inside red blood cells (RBCs). Since hemoglobin normally carries oxygen from the lungs to the tissues, anemia leads to hypoxia (lack of oxygen) in organs. Since all human cells depend on oxygen for survival, varying degrees of anemia can have a wide range of clinical consequences. Anaemia is caused by the lack of iron in the body as well.
The three main classes of anemia include excessive blood loss (acutely such as a hemorrhage or chronically through low-volume loss), excessive blood cell destruction (hemolysis) or deficient red blood cell production (ineffective hematopoiesis).
Anemia is the most common disorder of the blood. There are several kinds of anemia, produced by a variety of underlying causes. Anemia can be classified in a variety of ways, based on the morphology of RBCs, underlying etiologic mechanisms, and discernible clinical spectra, to mention a few.
There are two major approaches of classifying anemias, the "kinetic" approach which involves evaluating production, destruction and loss, and the "morphologic" approach which groups anemia by red blood cell size. The morphologic approach uses a quickly available and cheap lab test as its starting point (the MCV). On the other hand, focusing early on the question of production may allow the clinician more rapidly to expose cases where multiple causes of anemia coexist.
Pica, the consumption of non-food such as dirt, paper, wax, grass, ice, and hair, may be a symptom of iron deficiency, although it occurs often in those who have normal levels of hemoglobin.
Chronic anemia may result in behavioral disturbances in children as a direct result of impaired neurological development in infants, and reduced scholastic performance in children of school age.
In modern counters, four parameters (RBC count, hemoglobin concentration, MCV and RDW) are measured, allowing others (hematocrit, MCH and MCHC) to be calculated, and compared to values adjusted for age and sex. Some counters estimate hematocrit from direct measurements. For adult men, a hemoglobin level less than 13.0 g/dl (grams per deciliter) is diagnostic of anemia, and for adult women, the diagnostic threshold is below 12.0 g/dl.
Reticulocyte counts, and the "kinetic" approach to anemia, have become more common than in the past in the large medical centers of the United States and some other wealthy nations, in part because some automatic counters now have the capacity to include reticulocyte counts. A reticulocyte count is a quantitative measure of the bone marrow's production of new red blood cells. The reticulocyte production index is a calculation of the ratio between the level of anemia and the extent to which the reticulocyte count has risen in response. If the degree of anemia is significant, even a "normal" reticulocyte count actually may reflect an inadequate response.
If an automated count is not available, a reticulocyte count can be done manually following special staining of the blood film. In manual examination, activity of the bone marrow can also be gauged qualitatively by subtle changes in the numbers and the morphology of young RBCs by examination under a microscope. Newly formed RBCs are usually slightly larger than older RBCs and show polychromasia. Even where the source of blood loss is obvious, evaluation of erythropoiesis can help assess whether the bone marrow will be able to compensate for the loss, and at what rate.
When the cause is not obvious, clinicians use other tests: ESR, ferritin, serum iron, transferrin, RBC folate level, serum vitamin B12, hemoglobin electrophoresis, renal function tests (e.g. serum creatinine).
When the diagnosis remains difficult, a bone marrow examination allows direct examination of the precursors to red cells.
Here is a simplified schematic of this approach:
* For instance, sickle cell anemia with superimposed iron deficiency; chronic gastric bleeding with B12 and folate deficiency; and other instances of anemia with more than one cause. ** Confirm by repeating reticulocyte count: ongoing combination of low reticulocyte production index, normal MCV and hemolysis or loss may be seen in bone marrow failure or anemia of chronic disease, with superimposed or related hemolysis or blood loss.
Here is a schematic representation of how to consider anemia with MCV as the starting point:
Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia overall and it has many causes. RBCs often appear hypochromic (paler than usual) and microcytic (smaller than usual) when viewed with a microscope.
Macrocytic anemia can be further divided into "megaloblastic anemia" or "non-megaloblastic macrocytic anemia". The cause of megaloblastic anemia is primarily a failure of DNA synthesis with preserved RNA synthesis, which result in restricted cell division of the progenitor cells. The megaloblastic anemias often present with neutrophil hypersegmentation (6-10 lobes). The non-megaloblastic macrocytic anemias have different etiologies (i.e. there is unimpaired DNA globin synthesis,) which occur, for example in alcoholism.
In addition to the non-specific symptoms of anemia, specific features of vitamin B12 deficiency include peripheral neuropathy and subacute combined degeneration of the cord with resulting balance difficulties from posterior column spinal cord pathology. Other features may include a smooth, red tongue and glossitis.
The treatment for vitamin B12-deficient anemia was first devised by William Murphy who bled dogs to make them anemic and then fed them various substances to see what (if anything) would make them healthy again. He discovered that ingesting large amounts of liver seemed to cure the disease. George Minot and George Whipple then set about to chemically isolate the curative substance and ultimately were able to isolate the vitamin B12 from the liver. All three shared the 1934 Nobel Prize in Medicine.
During pregnancy, women should be especially aware of the symptoms of anemia, as an adult female loses an average of two milligrams of iron daily. Therefore, she must intake a similar quantity of iron in order to make up for this loss. Additionally, a woman loses approximately 500 milligrams of iron with each pregnancy, compared to a loss of 4-100 milligrams of iron with each period. Possible consequences for the mother include cardiovascular symptoms, reduced physical and mental performance, reduced immune function, fatigue, reduced peripartal blood reserves and increased need for blood transfusion in the postpartum period.
Iron deficiency from nutritional causes is rare in non-menstruating adults (men and post-menopausal women). The diagnosis of iron deficiency mandates a search for potential sources of loss such as gastrointestinal bleeding from ulcers or colon cancer. Mild to moderate iron deficiency anemia is treated by iron supplementation with ferrous sulfate or ferrous gluconate. Vitamin C may aid in the body's ability to absorb iron.
In anemia of chronic disease, anemia associated with chemotherapy, or anemia associated with renal disease, some clinicians prescribe recombinant erythropoietin, epoetin alfa, to stimulate red cell production.
In severe cases of anemia, or with ongoing blood loss, a blood transfusion may be necessary.
In severe, acute bleeding, transfusions of donated blood are often lifesaving. Improvements in battlefield casualty survival is attributable, at least in part, to the recent improvements in blood banking and transfusion techniques.
Transfusion of the stable but anemic hospitalized patient has been the subject of numerous clinical trials, and transfusion is emerging as a deleterious intervention.
Four randomized controlled clinical trials have been conducted to evaluate aggressive versus conservative transfusion strategies in critically ill patients. All four of these studies failed to find a benefit with more aggressive transfusion strategies.
In addition, at least two retrospective studies have shown increases in adverse clinical outcomes with more aggressive transfusion strategies.
In 2002, Van Meter reviewed the publications surrounding the use of HBO in severe anemia and found that all publications report a positive result.