Anemia is a Greek word meaning a state of deficiency of blood.
As per technical definition, anemia is said to be present when hemoglobin (one of the blood components combining with oxygen and transporting it to the body parts), is less than 13 gram per deciliter in men and less than 12 gram per deciliter in adult females.
Anemia can be due to defective formation of hemoglobin, increased break down or poor intake or absorption of necessary nutrients.
Anemia has a higher prevalence in women as compared to men, all over the world. In the U.S. 20% of women suffer from anemia as compared to 2% of men. Causes of 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 it is iron deficiency anemia.
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 IUD (intra uterine devices used for contraception) also induce chronic anemia 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 osteoporosis.
Some blood is also 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 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.
Apart from this, several diseases like recurrent malaria, worm infestation, chronic renal failure, e.t.c, lead to anemia and can affect men as well as women.
Many drugs like sulphur antibiotics, zidovudine, e.t.c. also cause chronic anemia.Alcohol, tobacco and other addictions also contribute to anemia in women who are addicts, 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 anemia can lead to mental changes. Cardiac failure can develop in chronic untreated cases.
An anemic woman can give birth to low birth weight babies. Severe anemia can impair fertility.
Diagnosis of anemia is confirmed by blood hemoglobin estimation. More sophisticated tests are needed to know the 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 and available easily and cheaply.
Whole grains like wheat (present in brown bread) or unpolished rice contain all components of vitamin B complex including B12 and are useful in preventing anemia.
Citrus fruits and guava supply vitamin C to the body which enhances absorption of iron taken in other foods.
Hygienically taken food and drinks minimize the risk of worm infestations causing anemia. Plenty of water orally and good hygiene during menses prevents infections of urinary system which are potential causes for anemia.
Women can examine themselves regularly 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 counseled about anemia and its long term implications.