Anaemia is a blood condition in which there is a deficiency of haemoglobin - the red chemical which carries oxygen around our bodies. This can be due to a reduced number of red cells - the result of decreased production or increased destruction or both. It can also be the end result of abnormally formed haemoglobin and abnormal red cells in normal numbers.

An anaemic person looks pale and is tired. The tiredness can vary from a mild lassitude to almost a complete collapse depending on the severity of the anaemia and how quickly it developed.

The symptoms can include breathlessness, heart palpitations, brittle hair and nails and a smooth, occasionally sore tongue. In some forms of anaemia you can also suffer from chills and fever, nausea, vomiting, jaundice, abdominal pain, pains in the arms and legs, a numbness and tingling in the feet.

The commonest cause of anaemia is blood loss such as excessive menstrual flow or internal bleeding.

Anaemia can be a result of associated causes include infections, liver disease, thyroid disease, cancer, X-ray radiation, drugs and toxic substances such as lead, inherited abnormalities and surgery on the gastro-intestinal tract, particularly the stomach. Iron deficiency anaemia is the commonest form of anaemia in an adult and is almost always due to blood loss and responds to iron medications. Iron is essential for the formation of haemoglobin in healthy red blood cells. The commonest causes of blood loss are excessive menstrual flow and bleeding from the stomach or bowel which shows up as red or black vomitus or motions.

Sometimes extra iron in the diet will correct the anaemia. Sources of iron in the diet include liver, meat, peas, beans, whole grain, potatoes, egg yolk, green vegetables and dried fruits. A deficiency in vitamin B12 can cause pernicious anaemia. B12 is found in foods of animal origin only, including meats, liver and kidney, milk, cheese, fish, shell fish and eggs. Treatment of extreme anaemia may involve blood transfusions.

If you suspect the possibility of anaemia, then your local doctor can arrange for a blood test to determine the presence of anaemia and other tests can determine the cause so that you can receive the correct treatment.

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