Anaemia is a lack of haemoglobin, i.e. red blood pigment. Haemoglobin is located in the red blood cells (erythrocytes) and is responsible for transporting oxygen in the blood. Depending on the anaemia, either the haemoglobin content of the blood cells is limited or there are too few red corpuscles in the blood as a whole. Anaemia occurs when the blood cannot transport sufficient oxygen, which then causes a drop in physical performance.
Anaemia can occur for very different reasons. The most common causes are deficiency symptoms such as iron deficiency, Vitamin B-12 deficiency or folic acid deficiency. If this is the case, there is a lack of important material for haematopoiesis (blood building). Chronic blood loss, for example during intestinal haemorrhaging or bone metastases from a tumour, can also cause anaemia. However, anaemia sufferers may also sometimes have an underlying blood disease, e.g. leukaemia.
Anaemia limits the blood’s capacity to transport oxygen, which in turn endangers the supply of sufficient oxygen to the body. Fatigue, reduced performance, headaches, breathing difficulties, dizziness or rapid heartbeat during mild exertion can be possible indications of anaemia. If there is blood in the stool or the urine, this should be immediately checked by a doctor.
Anaemia is diagnosed by measuring the haemoglobin in the blood. If it exists, the underlying causes must be found. Further examinations are also carried out to this end. The iron content or Vitamin B-12 content of the blood are determined to clarify whether a patient has an iron or a Vitamin B-12 deficiency. Sometimes just the appearance of the red blood cells under the microscope provides information on the causes of anaemia. If there is suspected bleeding, a colonoscopy or a gastroscopy may be required. Sometimes a skeletal scintigraphy is carried out to find out whether bone metastases exist. If the patient has a blood disease, a bone-marrow puncture will provide information on any disorders in the haematopoiesis.
The treatment of anaemia depends on what is causing it. Blood transfusions are usually only necessary in the case of severe anaemia. An existing iron or Vitamin B-12 deficiency can be remedied with the corresponding supplements. If there is haemorrhaging; for example, in the event of a stomach ulcer, the cause is treated. If cancer or a blood disease is responsible for the anaemia, the focus is on treating the disease in question.