“Anaemia” is a Greek word meaning a state of deficiency of blood. World over, anemia is more prevalent in women as compared to men. In US, 20 per cent of women suffer from anaemia as compared to 2 per cent men. Causes for anemia in women are multiple. It is not only the poor women but the affluent ones also who suffer from anemia. In majority of the cases the anemia in women is the iron deficiency type – which occurs due to deficiency of iron resulting in impaired formation of hemoglobin.
Women suffer from chronic blood loss due to monthly menstrual cycles. This blood loss if not corrected by an appropriate diet, always leads to chronic anemia.
Oral contraceptive pills and intra-uterine devices used for contraception also induce chronic anaemia in women by causing excess bleeding.
Women have hormonal changes in the body during the different stages of life like adolescence, pregnancy, lactation and menopause. During all these phases, demand for iron and calcium is increased. If this increased demand is not fulfilled, they tend to suffer from chronic iron deficiency anemia and softening of bones.
Some blood is invariably lost during child birth. This also contributes to the anemia in women. The greater the number of pregnancies and deliveries, the more the chances of affected women developing chronic anaemia.
Uterine fibroids cause heavy bleeding in affected women leading to iron deficiency anemia. Women who develop breast or cervical cancer also suffer from iron deficiency anemia.
Recurrent infections in any individual result in anemia. Urinary tract infections are more common in women due to multiple reasons, thus increasing susceptibility to develop anemia.
Women who are athletes and engage in vigorous intense physical exercise are more prone to develop iron deficiency anemia.
Women usually tend to be negligent about their diet. They care for the nutritional needs of the whole family but are careless about their own nutrition. This is also one of the reasons, why more women suffer from anemia.
Apart from this, several diseases like recurrent malaria, worm infestation, chronic renal failure, among others, lead to anemia both in men and women.
Alcohol, tobacco and other addictions also contribute to anaemia in women because of poor nutritional status.
Chronic body pain and feeling of early fatigue are early symptoms of chronic anemia. In middle-aged women, these are often dismissed as part of aging, hence neglected by women themselves. Later on one can have shortness of breath, palpitations, cold extremities, pale skin and eyes, hairy or shiny tongue, dry brittle hair and discoloration of nails. Severe anaemia can lead to mental changes. Chronic long standing anemia puts a burden on the heart as heart has to pump more vigorously to supply oxygen to all body cells. Therefore heart failure can set in after some years.
An anaemic woman can give birth to low birth weight babies. Severe anemia can impair fertility.
Diagnosis and prevention
Diagnosis of anaemia is confirmed by blood hemoglobin estimation. More investigations are needed to know type of anemia.
A balanced nutritious diet containing green vegetables and yellow fruits provides iron and folic acid to the body. Passion fruit, beet root and pumpkin are rich sources of iron.
They are available easily and cheaply. Citrus fruits and guava supply vitamin C to the body which enhances absorption of iron present in other foods. Meat, poultry and sea food are also rich sources of iron.
Hygienically taken food and drinks minimise the risk of worm infestations causing anaemia. Drinking good quantity of water, with good menstrual hygiene prevents infections of urinary system which are potential causes for anaemia.
Women can check themselves regularly for anaemia by looking in the mirror. Anemia can be detected in early stages by noticing pallor of the lower part of eyes. Even mild anemia detected should be treated adequately to prevent long term asthenia and complications.
Women need to be aware about anaemia and its complications and should adopt measures to prevent it.
Dr Rachna Pande is a specialist in internal medicine
at Ruhengeri Hospital