Anemia and Iron Deficiency – A Common Problem

We put our bodies through a lot each day. In order to burn all the energy our body needs, it has to have access to plenty of oxygen. This oxygen is predominantly sent to our muscles and organs on a protein called “hemoglobin,” which is found in our red blood cells (RBCs). Despite how crucial it is to our health, a national survey recently found that around 5.6% of people in the United States have low hemoglobin, a condition called “anemia.” That’s over 18 million Americans!

How Do People Get Anemia?

There are lots of different reasons a person can become anemic. Since hemoglobin needs iron to work, the most common reason people get anemia is a poor, low-iron diet or a problem absorbing the iron into the body. Besides iron, insufficient amounts of vitamins like folate and B12 can also be to blame. Another cause of anemia can be chronic bleeding, even tiny amounts which may not be noticeable to the average person. Red blood cells are produced by our bones as a result of hormone signals from the kidneys, so problems with bone marrow or kidneys are other possible causes of anemia. Even chronic inflammation can affect our red blood cell levels. Groups that are especially high risk for anemia include:

  • People with vegan diets, very low-calorie diets, or who have trouble accessing a large variety of food 
  • People with intestinal disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or who have had gastric surgery
  • People with congestive heart failure (CHF)
  • Women with heavy periods
  • Women are pregnant or were recently pregnant
  • People with chronic kidney disease (CKD)
  • People with cancer
  •  People with autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes

Additionally, people are more likely to become anemic as they get older.

The Symptoms of Anemia

Symptoms of anemia include low energy levels, headaches, weakness, changes in heart rate, reduced exercise tolerance, and shortness of breath. People with anemia may look pale, have jaundice (yellowing of the skin and/or eyes), or have changes in the shape of their nails. The more severe the anemia, the more symptoms are noticeable. Having mild anemia may not cause any symptoms, but it can still impact your health. Not only are people with mild anemia at a higher risk to develop worse anemia in the future, but they also tend to have more severe illness when sick or to end up hospitalized.

What Does a Pixel Anemia Test Tell Me?

Pixel by LabCorp™ offers a test package to provide you comprehensive information that can both check for signs of anemia and, if present, help narrow down the potential causes. In addition to giving you a complete blood count, including the amount of hemoglobin in your blood, you will receive information on iron, ferritin, and total iron binding capacity. These measures can tell you about your current iron levels and the ability of your body to use the iron. This package also checks your reticulocyte count, a measure of the body’s production of new red blood cells. Additionally, you will receive your folate and vitamin B12 levels.

If My Tests Are Abnormal, What Should I Do?

You can print your official lab reports from your Pixel results dashboard and share them with your doctor. Depending on the results, your doctor may recommend further work up to narrow down the cause of your anemia (if present), or may recommend vitamins, iron supplementation, or dietary changes. 

 

References:
1)    Le, CH. “The prevalence of anemia and moderate-severe anemia in the US population (NHANES 2003-2012).” PLoS One. 2016;11(11):e0166635.
2)    “Anemia.” American Society of Hematology. 2019. https://www.hematology.org/Patients/Anemia/
3)    “Anemia.” National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institute of Health, U.S Department of Health & Human Services. 9 Sep 2016. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/anemia
4)    “Iron deficiency anaemia.” National Health Service, UK. 12 Jan 2018. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/iron-deficiency-anaemia/
 

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