Iron Poor Blood—It’s Anemia, and You Should Take it Seriously
You might be of the mindset that having anemia is normal at
your age. The Geritol commercials years ago made us all think that everybody
“of a certain age” had “iron poor blood,” right? But like so many
conditions that commonly affect elders, anemia should be taken seriously—and
treated. Your quality of life can improve greatly once your blood counts get
back to normal. Additionally, if you’re recovering from another illness,
having anemia can slow down your recovery.
What are the
symptoms of anemia?
The list below shows you the symptoms of anemia. It’s
important to realize that the symptoms can be mild, and many people dismiss them
as so-called “normal signs of aging.”
What’s the cause?
Anemia is the most common blood disorder in this country.
At least 4 million people have it, but experts believe that that is an
underestimate. When you’re anemic, you have a shortage of healthy red blood
cells. It’s the red blood cells that carry oxygen to the body’s tissues and
remove carbon dioxide from the body. There’s a protein on red blood cells
called hemoglobin. When hemoglobin is low, the red cells don’t function as
well they should.
What causes anemia?
nutrition: You need iron to produce hemoglobin, but it can be difficult to
consume enough iron from your diet. In fact, inadequate nutrition is the most
common cause of anemia. Foods that contain iron include:
and poultry, organ meats in particular (these are the best sources)
bean and peas
and whole grain cereals and bread
Additionally, you need to get plenty of vitamin C, because
that helps your body absorb the iron you do manage to take in. And you need B
vitamins as well, including folic acid.
It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor or other
healthcare provider, such as a nutritionist or dietitian, about your iron
consumption and whether you should take a supplement that contains iron.
Be sure to read the iron-rich recipe in this issue of the magazine—Broiled Lamb Chops on Bean Stew.
There are a lot of health conditions that can actually be the cause of anemia:
anemias, such as sickle cell and thalassemia
polyps and hemorrhoids, which can cause chronic blood loss
Studies have shown that patients who have these conditions
have a higher mortality rate when anemia is present and is not treated. Kidney
dialysis patients who were anemic at the start of one study had double the risk
of death as dialysis patients who were not anemic. But as soon as the anemia was
treated, the death rate for both groups was the same. People who have heart
attacks and congestive heart failure have higher survival rates when their
anemia is addressed. Cancer patients, as well, have a higher survival rate if
they are not anemic.
tested for anemia
If a blood test for anemia isn’t part of your regular
healthcare screenings, you might want to talk to your doctor about being tested
for it. Especially if you have any of the chronic conditions listed above, or if
you’ve been experiencing any of the symptoms listed above. Simply getting
treated for anemia can greatly improve your quality of life and decrease your
chances of physical decline.
American Journal of Medicine, August 2003; Archives of Internal
Medicine, 23 June 2003; National Institute on Aging; New York Times, “Tired Blood Warming: Ignore It at Your Peril,”
23 September 2003.