Understanding Anemia

Anemia is a common condition affecting as many as one third of women during their childbearing years, and up to one fourth of children as well. Three million Americans are diagnosed with anemia each year.

Still, it is often misunderstood. In casual conversation, we often use the word “anemia” to describe someone who doesn’t get enough iron. It’s more complicated than that. 

What is anemia?

To be completely accurate, anemia is low hemoglobin, which can be caused by iron deficiency. These two disorders have similar symptoms: fatigue, dizziness, weakness, headaches, and pale skin. But it is possible to have one of these conditions and not the other. 

Low hemoglobin

Hemoglobin is the name for red blood cells, which carry oxygen through your body. They also remove carbon dioxide. You can have fewer than normal red blood cells for a variety of reasons.

Sometimes this is caused by blood loss. Menstruation and nosebleeds as well as blood loss from an injury or even internal bleeding can lead to low hemoglobin.

Anemia can also be caused by other conditions, like chronic kidney disease, which can prevent the body from using iron effectively.

AIDS, leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma or other bone marrow and immune system diseases, Crohn’s disease, and cancer can also lead to anemia.

If you have symptoms of anemia but you are eating iron-rich foods, you should see your doctor to discuss other possible reasons for anemia.

Iron deficiency

The most common cause of anemia is iron deficiency. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional problem in the United States. 

Where do you get iron?

Iron-rich foods include

  • red meat
  • fish
  • brown rice (48 mg per 100 grams)
  • quinoa
  • beans
  • lentils
  • almonds
  • potatoes
  • spinach
  • dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
  • dried fruit

Many multivitamins also include iron. Check the label of yours to see whether it contains iron. However, supplements may not work as well as iron-rich foods.

Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron more efficiently.  Some foods (like potatoes and spinach) contain both, but it’s a good plan to eat high Vitamin C foods along with high iron foods. Combinations like whole-grain pasta with tomato sauce or chili with beans are good examples.

Tea, wine, or coffee with or right after a meal can keep you from absorbing iron well. The tannins in these drinks are the culprits.

Iron deficiency that hasn’t yet led to anemia (low blood count) can be treated by eating these healthy, iron-rich foods.

If you are concerned about anemia, ask your doctor. Fayetteville Diagnostic Clinic includes Internal Medicine Specialists who can help.