Anemia describes the state where the red blood cell count, or the amount of hemoglobin in each cell, is pathologically low. This prevents sufficient oxygen from reaching the tissue of the body. Anemia is always symptomatic of some other problem -- not a disease in and of itself. Diagnosis and treatment should be conducted by physician as there are too many factors for the layman to consider. Figures for the United States suggest that 2-10% of people suffer an anemic condition. Most other nations suffer higher numbers.
Signs and symptoms of anemia vary widely (and while some are caused by and others are causes of -- each of these can be used diagnostically by a physician). Symptoms can be extremely painful or completely unnoticable. These signs include: cardiac abnormalities, chest pain, cramps in the lower leg, depression, faintness, fatigue, headache, impaired cognitive function, jaundice, low blood pressure, pallor, rapid respiration, sweating, thirst, vertigo, weakness and weight loss. Symptoms may lead a patient to seek medical counsel resulting in diagnosis, but often mild anemia is discovered through routine blood tests. Further testing is typically performed to determine causes.
There are three broad causes of anemia: blood loss, compromised red blood cell production and abnormal rate of red blood cell destruction. Anemia-inducing blood loss can be caused by: childbirth, injury or surgery or by more chronic situations including: gastro-intestinal ulcers (causing black and tarry stools or rectal bleeding) or cancers, hemorrhoids, menstrual bleeding, nosebleeds or tumors or the kidney or bladder. Compromised red blood cell production can be caused by deficiency of dietary elements including: folic acid, iron, vitimin B12 or vitimin C or other factors such as: arthritis, bone marrow dysfunction, chemo/radio-therapy, chronic disease/infection, leukemia, lymphoma, metastatic cancer, myelodysplasia or myelofibrosis. Abnormal red blood cell destruction can also be caused by a number of conditions, including: autoimmune dysfunction, enlarged spleen, G6PD deficiency, hereditary elliptocytosis, hemoglobin C disease, hemoglobin E disease, hemoglobin S-C disease, hereditary spherocytosis, mechanical damage, paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, sickle cell disease or thalassemia. Also, water-weight gain in pregnant women can dilute the blood sufficiently to cause anemia.
As with the symptoms and severity, the treatments of anemia range from very minor (solar therapy) to substantial (hysterectomy). These include: erythropoietin hormone therapy, hysterectomy, infection treatment, nutritional supplements and transfusion of blood.
GTKY: my daughter was born slightly anemic -- clearly jaundiced. The advice given by our midwives was to bathe her in sunlight for two days and see a physician if it didn't resolve. We did. It did. We took her to the doc anyway, just to discuss it.
The Merck Manuals Online: http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec14/ch172/ch172a.html
the Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/anemia/DS00321/DSECTION=3
Anemia Causes and Treatment, Ernest H. Rosenbaum, MD, Cancer Supportive Care Programs: http://www.cancersupportivecare.com/anemiacause.html