Symptoms of anemia
Anemia is mostly a laboratory term and its expression varies widely according to the person affected, the severity of the anemia and the onset by which it started. Symptoms of anemia include:
- Fatigue, feeling of unwellness and inability to perform daily tasks: This is usually felt when anemia develops somehow quickly -within weeks to a few months-. This is due to the inability of the blood to deliver oxygen to tissues at the required rate leading to decreased metabolism.
- Breathlessness: This is quite a common complaint among anemics, and it results from the same reason: the body sense that not enough oxygen is delivered to its cells.
- Chest pain: This pain is like that felt in angina and results from the heart muscle not receiving enough oxygen. It is felt more like a tightening or choking sensation. It is usually exacerbated by effort and relieved by rest.
- Fast heartbeats: The body compensates for the low oxygen delivery by increasing the rate of delivery of that oxygen through increasing heartbeats. This can cause much discomfort to the patient who becomes aware of their heartbeat. This is termed palpitations.
- Lightheadedness and loss of consciousness: Our brains are very sensitive to decreased oxygen delivery and anemic patients frequently complain of headaches and lightheadedness. This can be further complicated by attacks of fainting -which is a good indicator of the severity of the anemia-.
- Cold hands and feet: Since oxygen is delivered sub optimally to the tissues, the rate of metabolism is reduced, which is the greatest contributor to the production of body heat. To preserve its heat, the body constricts its peripheral vessels to reduce the loss of heat and concentrate warmth at its core leading to cold extremities.
- Paleness of the face, palms and lips: Since the level of hemoglobin is low, the level of redness of the blood is reduced. This is especially seen in the lips, gums and conjunctiva of the eye because their blood vessels are not blocked by skin or pigmentation.
These symptoms are generally seen in all types of anemias and regardless of the cause, but they are usually associated with other manifestations of the cause for example:
- Iron deficiency anemia is usually associated with brittle nails, a desire to eat strange substances such as ice, wood and mud, a condition called pica or geophagia and inflammation surrounding the mouth.
- Thalassemia is associated with jaundice, enlarged spleen with abdominal pain and some endocrinal abnormalities such as delayed puberty.
- Autoimmune disease will present by their prevalent symptoms. Lupus, for example, can present by joint pain and facial rash.
- Hemolytic anemias in general present by jaundice with change in stool and urine color.
- Chronic loss of blood due to cancer colon is also associated with loss of weight, abdominal pain and change of bowel habits.