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Fighting fatigue?

If you have an unhealthy pallor and tire easily, you could be suffering from iron deficiency anaemia which can cause serious health consequences if left untreated

RIDHI SAWANT had always been an upbeat and energetic person, so she knew something was wrong when she started feeling unusually lethargic.

The alarm bells rang when giddiness and nausea struck in college one day. A checkup revealed that while her blood pressure and sugar levels were normal, her haemoglobin count was as low as 8 grams.

This low level of haemoglobin was responsible for the anaemia that Ridhi was suffering from.

More than half the women in India suffer from anaemia ( 56% of Indian married women and 58% pregnant women according to the National Family Health Survey - 3, 2006). This condition occurs when the body does not have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to the various tissues. Too little iron in the body is what causes a decrease in the number of red blood cells. Iron is a key part of haemoglobin, the oxygen- carrying protein in the blood. Without iron, the blood cannot carry oxygen effectively and prevents the body cells from functioning optimally.

While there are many types of anaemia, iron deficiency anaemia is the most common.

Though men are less prone to developing anaemia, 24% of Indian men are reported to suffer, and doctors say more and more city dwellers have this problem. " Close to about half the anaemic patients I see happen to be teenage girls," says Dr Mala Srivastava, consultant gynaecologist, Sir Gangaram hospital.


IRON rich food is the best source of iron for the body, as it is recycled iron from old red blood cells. When this falls short of the required amount, symptoms of anaemia may manifest. These range from tiredness, hair fall and pimples to irritability. The more common signs are fatigue, headache, decreased appetite, brittle nails, pale skin colour, sore tongue, weakness and dizziness, fast or irregular heartbeat and chest pain. Low body temperature is another sideeffect of anaemia. Anaemia can be temporary or long term and can range from mild to severe. Usually if it is mild, there may be no symptoms.

Though this is a common condition, iron-deficiency is less likely to be diagnosed until it manifests in severe problems like anaemia and blackouts. "That's because the complaints of many women who talk of tiredness are overlooked as they don't look pale," says Dr Ashutosh Shukla, consultant, internal medicine, Artemis Health Institute. The condition is usually discovered when a woman goes for pregnancy or fertility tests or complains of menstrual problems.


ANAEMIA develops slowly after the normal iron stores in the body and bone marrow have run out. "In general, women have smaller stores of iron than men because they lose more through menstruation. Hence, they are at a higher risk for anaemia than men," says Dr Shukla.

Iron absorption by the body can be hindered for several reasons.

One may be the poor absorption of iron by the body due to celiac disease, crohn's disease and gastric bypass surgery, apart from other surgeries. Consuming antacids can also hinder the absorption of iron by the body. Anaemia can also arise from a deficiency of vitamin B12 and folate, both necessary for the production of red blood cells and proper functioning of the nervous system. This can arise from dietary imbalance, pregnancy and breast feeding. Another cause may be parasitic infections like malaria, which destroy red blood cells and suppress the formation of new ones. The unhygienic conditions in which vegetables are grown may also lead to anaemia. Worms that infest leafy veggies can reach our intestines and feed on the blood.

Other less common reasons are gastrointestinal blood loss from certain types of cancer ( oesophagus, stomach and colon), long term use of aspirin or non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs ( NSAIDS) and ulcers.

Anaemia may also be related to lead poisoning in children.


ANAEMIA can be overcome by having a diet rich in iron. " This is a simple problem which can be set right with the right kind of food. The haemoglobin count rises drastically within a span of two -- four months with a proper iron enriched diet," says Dr Srivastava. Iron potent food that can help anaemics includes eggs ( especially the yolk), fish, legumes ( peas and beans), meat ( liver being the highest source), poultry, raisins and whole grain bread. Vegetarians are at a higher risk of developing anaemia since they lack a variety of protein sources, which contribute to the iron level.

Since meat and chicken are good sources of iron, those on a non- vegetarian diet are in good stead to fight this deficiency.

Many people don't know that increasing the intake of vitamin C can improve the absorption of iron into the body, enhancing the production of haemoglobin.

Eating citrus rich fruit and vegetables high in vitamin C along with iron rich food increases the absorption of iron in the body.

One needs to be careful about the complications than iron defeciency anaemia can cause.

Since a reduction in red blood cells decreases the ability to absorb oxygen from the lungs, serious problems can occur in prolonged and severe anaemia that is not treated.

It can lead to secondary organ dysfunction or damage, including heart arrhythmia and heart failure.

In children, severe anaemia can impair motor and mental development and growth. They may exhibit a shortened attention span and decreased alertness.

Kids with severe iron- deficiency anaemia may also have an increased risk for stroke.

Anaemia is common in older people and can have significantly severe complications than anaemia in younger adults. It effects in the elderly include decreased strength and increased risk for falls. It may have adverse effects on the heart and increase the severity of cardiac conditions, including reducing survival rates from heart failure and heart attacks.


EVERYONE should get their blood test done on an annual basis to measure various components, including iron Anyone who experiences the symptoms of anaemia should get their blood tested. This is applicable to all pregnant and lactating women, and also those recovering from viral infections, as these conditions cause a drop in iron levels. The treatment for anaemia involves taking iron supplements as tablets, liquid or even injections. Iron supplementation is recommended throughout a woman's pregnancy, as the average diet cannot fulfil the body's requirement during this period. Coffee and tea should also be avoided with meals as this interferes with absorption.

meghanien. lingam @ mailtoday. in

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:Oct 6, 2009
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