Anaemia Symptoms: 6 Types of the Condition That Can Lead to Health Complications

Anaemia symptoms are unique for each person with the condition. If left untreated, it can severely disrupt your daily life.

Woman in workwear passed out on a pink sofa

Did you know that anaemia is a global public health concern? Yes, that’s right. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 42% of children below the age of five and 40% of pregnant women worldwide are anaemic. The condition occurs when the number of red blood cells in your body is low, giving rise to various anaemia symptoms. Check out the six types of anaemia and ways to do away with the disorder naturally. 

A woman holding her abdominal area in pain while lying in bed
Women with heavy menstrual periods have a higher risk of iron-deficiency anaemia.

6 Types of Anaemia and Their Symptoms 

There are several reasons why you can be anaemic. These include a deficiency of nutrients like folate, iron, vitamins A and B12. Haemoglobinopathies – a group of genetic conditions that affect haemoglobin – and infectious diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can also increase your risk of the disorder. Besides, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) recognises anaemia as a blood and qi (vital energy) Deficiency.

Iron-deficiency anaemia 

This is the most common type of anaemia. Its primary causes are blood loss, insufficient iron intake, and inability to absorb iron during pregnancy. It’s worth noting that the human body is unable to absorb sufficient iron from food to fully replenish the amount of iron lost from blood loss in time. This is especially the case for people with heavy menstrual periods or inflammatory bowel disease (IBS). You will also require more iron if you are pregnant or have certain illnesses.

Symptoms of this anaemia type are fatigue, chest pain, shortness of breath, and cold hands or feet.

Pernicious anaemia 

Pernicious anaemia is an autoimmune condition that happens when your immune system attacks the cells that produce intrinsic factors. Intrinsic factor is a protein that helps your intestines absorb vitamin B12. Without vitamin B12, the human body will struggle to produce healthy, functioning red blood cells, which can lead to anaemia.

Pernicious anaemia can also describe an onset of the disorder stemming from low levels of folic acid. Confusion, diarrhoea, and numbness or a tingling sensation in the hands and feet relate to this anaemia type.

Haemolytic anaemia

Haemolytic anaemia occurs when red blood cells are destroyed at a faster rate than they are being produced by the body. This condition can be inherited or acquired. Some genetic conditions that cause haemolytic anaemia include thalassemia, G6PD deficiency and sickle cell disease.

Acquired haemolytic anaemia refers to anaemia developing as a result of other conditions. This includes infection, usage of specific medications, and the development of certain autoimmune disorders or blood tumours.

If you have this type of anaemia, you may present with symptoms such as jaundice, chills, enlarged spleen, or abdominal or back pain.

Aplastic anaemia 

This anaemia type originates from damaged stem cells in the bone marrow, leading to fewer blood cells being produced. It can be inherited or acquired. Approximately 50% of people with this disorder are going through these:

  • Pregnant
  • Undergoing chemotherapy 
  • Exposed to radiation 
  • Contracted Epstein-Barr virus or cytomegalovirus infections
  • Exposed to chemicals like benzene and inorganic arsenic  
  • Are using or have used medications like antibiotics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) 

If you have aplastic anaemia, you’re likely to experience symptoms like frequent infections and a tendency to bleed or bruise easily.

Diamond Blackfan and Fanconi anaemia 

Diamond Blackfan anaemia is a rare blood disorder that can be inherited or acquired. Ninety percent of people with this type of anaemia will receive a diagnosis within the first year of life. It happens when your bone marrow malfunctions and is unable to produce sufficient red blood cells. In some cases, platelet and white blood cell levels may occur as well.

As a result, people with Diamond Blackfan anaemia may experience irritability, sleepiness, pale skin and a rapid heartbeat.

Likewise, Fanconi anaemia is also a rare genetic disorder that limits the bone marrow’s ability to make red blood cells. Fifty percent of people with this condition will get a diagnosis by 10. Notable signs of this anaemia type are physical abnormalities or pale skin colour.

Various types of green leafy vegetables on a wooden surface
Green leafy vegetables are chock full of iron.

Steps You Can Take to Do Away with Anaemia Symptoms 

A healthcare provider will perform diagnostic tests to identify treatment modalities that are appropriate for your anaemia type. Examples of these are: 

  • Complete blood count test, which indicates the quantity, shape and size of red blood cells in your body 
  • A combination of blood and urine tests that determines if you have haemolytic anaemia 
  • A colonoscopy or faecal occult blood test that checks for gastrointestinal bleeding 

Switch up your eating pattern 

Consuming foods like green leafy vegetables and lean red meat can address a scarcity of iron in the body. You may also use iron supplements. If you have chronic kidney disease, you can use an intravenous infusion instead. Separately, parents may include iron-fortified cereals in their child’s diet.

Use herbal formulations or ingredients 

Herbs that boost qi and nourish blood are helpful for anaemia. “These herbs are suitable for all types of anaemia, especially if symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, pale skin and dizziness are present”, explains Eu Yan Sang physician Anita Pee. 

Generally, TCM practitioners will prescribe a formula known as ba zhen tang (八珍汤). They may also recommend the brew and consumption of a herbal tea called dang gui bu xue tang (当归补血汤). This concoction uses ingredients like Astragalus (huang qi, 黄芪) and Angelica (dang gui, 当归).

Incorporating both the TCM formula and the herbal tea concoction can support a holistic treatment of anaemia symptoms. Take comfort in knowing that the use of herbs is safe if you have anaemia. However, physician Anita cautions, “As these herbs are mostly tonics with warming properties, people with excess or heaty conditions, or acute illness should not consume these herbs.

If you have anaemia due to excessive bleeding or other conditions such as cancer or chronic liver and kidney diseases, then you should consult a registered TCM physician before consuming these herbs.”

References

  1. World Health Organization. Anaemia. [online] [Accessed 8 February 2022] 
  2. Cleveland Clinic. Anemia. [online]  [Accessed 8 February 2022] 
  3. Medline Plus. Intrinsic factor. [online] [Accessed 8 February 2022] 
  4. National Organization for Rare Disorders, Inc. Anemia, Pernicious. [online] [Accessed 8 February 2022] 
  5. MSD MANUAL. Etiology of Aplastic Anemia. [online] [Accessed 8 February 2022] 
  6. National Organization for Rare Disorders, Inc. Diamond Blackfan Anemia. [online] [Accessed 8 February 2022] 

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