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Types of anaemia and their symptoms

A person with anaemia doesn’t have enough haemoglobin in their blood or has fewer red blood cells than normal.

Symptoms of anaemia will vary depending on the type and cause, but include:

  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Unusually rapid heartbeat, particularly with exercise
  • Shortness of breath and headache, particularly with exercise
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Pale skin
  • Leg cramps
  • Insomnia

Other symptoms are associated with specific forms of anaemia.

Anaemia caused by iron deficiency:

  • Hunger or craving for strange substances such as paper, ice, or dirt (a condition called pica)
  • Upward curvature of the nails, referred to as koilonychia
  • Soreness of the mouth with cracks at the corners
  • A smooth or sore tongue

With iron deficiency anaemia your doctor may recommend iron supplements that contain the ferrous form of iron, which your body can absorb easily. Always consult with your doctor before taking iron supplements. Excess iron intake can be harmful. Symptoms of iron overload include fatigue, vomiting, diarrhoea, headaches, irritability and joint problems.

 

Anaemia caused by vitamin B-12 deficiency:

  • A tingling, "pins and needles" sensation in the hands or feet
  • Loss of sense of touch
  • An unsteady, wobbly gait and difficulty walking
  • Clumsiness and stiffness of the arms and legs
  • Dementia

For vitamin B-12 and folate deficiency anaemia, the treatment depends on the cause of the deficiency. If your body stores are depleted of vitamin B-12, your doctor is most likely to prescribe vitamin B-12 injections. If the vitamin B12 levels are borderline low then your doctor may try oral tablets in a high dose first to see your response. There is a good chance that many of the symptoms associated with this type of deficiency will improve very quickly once the body is provided with the needed B-12.

Anaemia caused by chronic lead poisoning:

  • A blue-black line on the gums referred to as a lead line
  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures in severe cases, especially in children

Lead poisoning is treated by discontinuing exposure to lead and administering a medicine that binds and draws lead out of the body. Where the household is suspected as the source of lead poisoning, calling the local environmental health department is essential. Old lead water piping used to be a problem in older houses.

Anaemia caused by chronic red blood cell destruction (haemolysis):

  • Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes)
  • Brown or red urine
  • Leg ulcers
  • Failure to thrive in infancy
  • Symptoms of gallstones

Anaemia caused by sudden red blood cell destruction (haemolysis):

  • Abdominal pain
  • Brown or red urine
  • Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes)
  • Small bruises under the skin
  • Seizures
  • Symptoms of kidney failure

Anaemia caused by increased red blood cell destruction

The treatment of haemolytic anaemia may be tailored to the underlying cause. It is important to consider altering or stopping any medication or agent that is causing the condition. Adding folate supplements is often needed as levels drop. Some patients may require blood transfusion or iron replacement therapy but it is a complex decision as to whether either is given.

WebMD Medical Reference

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