By Stephanie Simons,
Lindo’s Pharmacy in Devonshire
Feeling overly tired? Or a bit short of breath? These symptoms can affect us all at some point or another, and there are many reasons why. A common culprit, however, is anaemia.
Anaemia occurs when there’s a reduction in red blood cells circulating in the body. This prevents organs from getting enough oxygen to function correctly, causing fatigue, shortness of breath and often other symptoms too like pale skin, tinnitus, headaches and hair loss.
At least 6% of the US population has some form of anaemia. While women, young children, and people with long-term diseases are more likely to have the condition, it can affect anyone. The good news is, anaemia can be detected by a simple blood test and, in most cases, easily treated.
The most common form of anaemia is caused by iron deficiency. Iron is needed by your bone marrow to make haemoglobin, the part of the red blood cell that takes oxygen to your organs. This can be tackled with supplements like Ferrograd, Spatone, Floradix or Ferrous Fumarate or stronger doses prescribed by your GP. But first of all, we must identify the cause behind the deficiency.
This can be as simple as your diet. Most people get a steady supply of iron from the food they eat, but many miss out on its key sources. Vegetarians and vegans don’t receive the high doses found in meat, but it’s easy to pack in plant-based sources like pulses, leafy vegetables and fortified breads and cereals. Those who avoid meat may also not ingest enough Vitamin B12, which is essential for building red blood cells. B12 is often added to plant milks like almond, oat or soya, or can be taken as a supplement like Vit. B-12 by Nature’s Bounty or Nature Made. The strengths available range from 250mcg to 2500mcg.
Blood loss can also cause anaemia if the number of red blood cells lost exceeds the amount being produced. Women who experience heavy and/or overly frequent periods often suffer from anaemia due to this depletion in the body’s red blood cells. Anaemia can also indicate gastrointestinal conditions such as ulcers, haemorrhoids, gastritis or cancer which cause internal bleeding, which is why it’s always important to flag symptoms to your GP.
Pregnant women often experience anaemia too, as both mother and baby need higher levels of iron than is usually ingested. While mild anaemia is normal during pregnancy, more severe cases can increase the risk of pre-term delivery, a low birth weight, and blood loss during labour, making it more difficult to fight infection. Expectant mothers should look to increase the iron in their diets and discuss any symptoms with their GPs, who will test for and treat anaemia throughout the pregnancy.
Folic acid (Vitamin B9) plays a key role in red blood cell production, and GPs often prescribe this to pregnant women or suggest a lighter dose made by Nature’s Bounty or Nature Made. A diet rich in leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, beans, and whole grains will also boost your folic acid intake. These are tiring times for us all and a little fatigue is nothing to be alarmed about. But if you are at all concerned that you or a family member may be anaemic, speak to your GP as soon as possible. Pharmacists too are always happy to advise and discuss any possible supplements. Most cases of anaemia are easy to diagnose and to treat as long as we keep an eye out for the signs.
Stephanie Simons is the head pharmacist at Lindo’s Pharmacy in Devonshire. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and has been practicing for over 20 years. She is a registered pharmacist with the Bermuda Pharmacy Council and is a member of the Bermuda Pharmaceutical Association.