Anaemia

Shortage of red blood cells, the function of which is to transport oxygen (02) from the lungs to the tissues and carbon dioxide (C02) from the tissues to the lungs. A shortage of red cells thus causes tissue to be starved of oxygen. Such a shortage is first noticed during exertion, when the tissues require more oxygen than when the body is at rest. Symptoms are fatigue, shortness of breath and sometimes headache and dizziness. The body reacts by pumping the remaining red cells around the body as quickly as possible, to optimize the oxygen supply. This can cause palpitations and ringing in the ears. Paleness caused because little blood flows through the skin, is the commonest symptom of anaemia, after tiredness. The causes of anaemia can be divided into three major groups: loss of blood, reduced production of red blood cells and excessively rapid breakdown of the cells. The commonest is reduced production through shortage of the ‘building bricks’ required to make the cells – iron, folic acid and vitamin B,2, extracted from food by the body. Shortage of these items in food can thus cause anaemia, though a normal diet provides an adequate supply. Shortage of iron and folic acid can also occur in infections of the intestines or severe diarrhoea, which prevent the body from absorbing the materials. Pregnancy can also cause a shortage, because the foetus requires the materials in large quantities, which may leave too little for the mother. The commonest cause of iron deficiency is loss of blood, in heavy menstruation, for example; for the latter reason the condition is more common in women than men. If the cause is shortage of iron, vitamin B,2 and folic acid, then the diet should be adjusted to make adequate provision; it

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