Anemia refers to a condition in which the blood's red cell count is too low and/or too little hemoglobin (the protein that is responsible for carrying oxygen in the bloodstream).
Anemia is not a disease, but a symptom of an underlying health problem. It is the most common blood disorder in seniors, affecting about 15% of those over 65, and becomes more common with age.
There are many causes of anemia. Blood loss from an accident or operation, or from a bleeding ulcer or hemorrhoids, are the most obvious. Red blood cells can be destroyed by toxins or diseases. There may also be a condition where the body may not be able to manufacture enough red blood cells. In the elderly, this often occurs because the individual doesnít consume enough iron, vitamin C, vitamin B12, or folic acid, in his/her diet.
The symptoms of anemia reflect the fact the bodyís tissues arenít getting enough oxygen. People who are anemic may feel:
- Tired or easily fatigued
- Weak or unable to exercise
- Prone to breathlessness with even a little exertion, or lightheaded
They may look pale and have infections more often than most other people.
In the elderly, these common warning signs may not occur. Anemia may manifest as confusion, fainting spells, falls, chest pain or congestive heart failure.
Effective treatment for anemia will depend on the underlying cause. Iron-deficiency anemia, can be alleviated with a change in diet or the addition of an iron supplement. Anemia caused by vitamin C, B12, or folic acid deficiency can be treated with a nutritional supplement.
If the anemia is caused by chronic bleeding, the individual may have to stop taking any drugs that may promote bleeding (such as aspirin or other drugs used in the treatment of arthritis).
If your physician indicates you have anemia, he or she will explain the cause of your condition and the appropriate measures for your treatment. It is important to follow the directions you are given to help make sure the anemia does not return.