Anaemia is a condition that predominantly affects women—it is found in women of all ages and across geographies.
Although the word anaemia literally means lack of blood, what your body actually lacks is either RBCs [red blood cells] or haemoglobin.
Tips to treat anaemia
It was not without reason that your mom told you to eat your greens; including these in your diet helps prevent anaemia.
Here’s a list of other things that you must do to prevent or treat the condition.
- Include green leafy vegetables, carrots, broccoli, beetroot, dates, jaggery, tomato, red pepper, red meat, liver and egg yolk in your diet. Increasing the intake of iron-rich foods helps replenish your iron reserves.
- Drink spinach soup or juice 3 – 4 times a week.
- Supplement your diet with vitamin C-rich foods such as lemon, amla, nachni [ragi] and oranges, as they help absorb iron from food.
- Eat raisins and dried figs as they are known to marginally increase iron levels. They also provide many other micronutrients. You could have them just plain or toss them in your salad or cereal.
- Use iron vessels for cooking food.
- Do not wash green leafy vegetables after cutting them as it causes further loss of nutrients; wash them thoroughly before cutting.
- Consult your physician if you notice a sudden increase in blood loss during menstruation or if it is accompanied with unusual pain. If your haemoglobin level is below 12mg/dl, you might need to take iron supplements.
Getting to the exact cause of anaemia with the help of your physician is important. Because without treating it, no amount of dietary supplementation or preventive measures will help. For that, familiarise yourself with the common causes.
You can lose blood due to:
- Heavy menstrual bleeding: This is the most common cause of iron deficiency anaemia in women. In case of hormonal imbalance or a fibroid, the amount of blood lost during menstruation is more than usual. Often, this goes unchecked for months till pain accompanies blood loss.
- Surgery, bleeding or injury: There is a possibility of significant blood loss after a major surgery or haemorrhage [bleeding] due to an injury.
- Chronic intestinal bleeding: This could be a result of a gastric ulcer, polyp [abnormal tissue growth from a mucous membrane] or a worm infestation.
- Bleeding from haemorrhoids [piles].
- Gastrointestinal cancers or their treatment [chemotherapy, radiation, surgery].
- Delivery: Some amount of blood is lost during delivery—whether normal or surgical. Blood is also lost in a miscarriage.
- Some medications may also cause blood loss.
- During pregnancy, your body’s requirement for haemoglobin increases. Hence, if not adequately supplemented through diet or oral iron pills, it could deplete your body’s iron reserves.
- Frequent pregnancies or closely spaced pregnancies without giving the body appropriate time to heal could be another precursor to iron deficiency anaemia.
Poor dietary intake
- Faulty/fad diets.
- Incorrect cooking methods: Overcooking food or reheating food several times causes loss of nutrients.
- Excessive milk consumption: Milk hampers iron absorption from the gut.
- Poor absorption of iron from food: This could be due to malabsorption of iron from the intestine or a gastrointestinal disease.
- Deficiency of vitamin B12 and folic acid.
- Excessive alcohol intake.
Decreased RBC production
- In diseases affecting the kidney such as kidney failure or cancers, the production of RBCs in the bone marrow is hampered, causing anaemia.
Increased RBC destruction
- In conditions when RBCs are destroyed in excess such as haemolytic anaemia.
How is it diagnosed?
A blood test is conducted to check levels of haemoglobin. Normal levels in Indian women are 12 – 14 mg/dl.
Since women are predisposed to anaemia, it is wise to stay informed and take the right measures.
Watch out for
Signs and symptoms of anaemia include:
- Frequent fatigue, dizziness and fainting spells
- Breathlessness on little exertion
- Pale conjunctiva [the part of your eye visible when you pull down the lower eyelid]
- Pale, lack-lustre skin [all over the body especially palms and nails]
- Cold hands and feet
- Reduced energy levels
- Loss of hair
- Increased susceptibility to infections
- Increased pulse rate and low blood pressure
- Abnormal heart sounds
- Blood in stool or dark coloured stool
- Worsening of existing illness
- Smooth tongue and spoon shaped nails known as Koilonychia [happens only in severe cases].