What Is Anemia

The function of the red blood cells is to carry oxygen and nutrition to the tissues and carbon dioxide from the tissues. The main element of red blood cells is hemoglobin, which is made from stores of iron and protein in the body.

These are derived from food and from the destruction of hemoglobin in the body for the iron is reused.

Anemia is a lowering of the red blood cells, or hemoglobin, below the normal value for the age of the person. It may or may not produce symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, or headaches. The diagnosis of anemia is made by drawing a drop of blood from the finger, diluting it in a standard solution, and examining and counting the cells directly under a microscope. The cells are also stained with dye and the colors and shapes examined on a slide. A defect of the red blood cells, or hemoglobin, reflects a disturbance of the production of iron, or a loss or destruction of these elements.

No Anemias of Pregnancy Anemia is a good deal more common in women than in men, due to the loss of iron women experience with each menstrual period. Anemia is therefore more likely to develop with heavy and frequent periods.

Pregnancy may be another contributory factor, for the developing baby will draw on maternal iron stores. It is quite common. therefore, to prescribe iron supplements during pregnancy. Prenatal vitamin supplements often have calcium and iron added to them in recognition of the extra need for these two elements. Although, as a rule, blood loss at the time of delivery creates no problem, it may be sufficient to result in mild anemia. In such an event the doctor will probably prescribe iron supplements to be taken for some time after the delivery. As can be seen, the crucial factor in most of the anemias that affect women is the availability of iron.

There are some rare anemias in pregnancy known as megaloblastic anemias. These are not due to iron deficiency but rather to an inadequate supply of folic acid, a member of the B group of vitamins; the condition is remedied by giving folic acid by injection. Occasionally also, considerable amounts of bleeding from hemorrhoids or from disorders not necessarily associated with pregnancy (such as a bleeding peptic ulcer) may contribute to anemia. Occurrences of this sort should be reported to the doctor who will in any case routinely check for anemia in pregnancy.