Anaemia: Symptoms and Treatment

Anaemia is a common side effect of chemotherapy that is rarely discussed. According to one study, 89.5% of people with solid tumours receiving chemotherapy experienced some degree of anaemia. There was thankfully only mild to moderate anaemia in the vast majority of these people. 

What is Anaemia?

Anaemia is caused by the body not having enough red blood cells, which causes hemoglobin, the main protein of red blood cells, to become deficient. As oxygen flows through your body, this protein carries it to your organs and tissues. When your body's oxygen levels are too low, you may feel fatigued and short of breath.

Causes of Anaemia

As a result of chemotherapy, your bone marrow and kidneys are damaged. Typically, this does not last long and anaemia improves a few months after chemo is completed.

Most of the components of your blood are made up of bone marrow, the soft, spongy tissue found inside your bones. Every day, it produces billions of red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout your body. Among them are white blood cells for fighting infections and platelets for controlling bleeding. Fat is also stored in bone marrow and converted into energy when needed.

On the other hand, the kidneys play an even more significant role! If your kidneys weren't functioning, your bone marrow wouldn't know when to make red blood cells. As a result of the kidneys creating erythropoietin, this occurs. After being made, it acts on red blood cells to prevent them from being destroyed. It also stimulates the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells.

Anaemia Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Drowsiness
  • Depression
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Rapid Heart Rate 
  • Lightheadedness or Dizziness
  • Poor Concentration
  • Loss of Appetite 
  • Skin that looks paler than usual
  • Headaches
  • Fainting 

Get in touch with your cancer team if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. With a complete blood count, you can find out if it is anaemia or not and get the right treatment.

Anaemia Treatment

Iron and other supplements

Your doctor may give you a prescription for an iron supplement, folic acid (vitamin B9) or vitamin B12) or you may be told to eat more high iron foods like red meats, enriched grains and cereals.

Blood Transfusions 

The transfusion increases the number of red blood cells in your blood. This means that more oxygen can be carried around your body to your tissues and organs. This will increase your energy levels and reduce breathlessness.

Erythropoietin Stimulating Agents 

A medical professional can administer erythropoietin stimulating agents as a shot under your skin. They’re synthetic versions of the hormone erythropoietin produced by your kidneys. This hormone stimulates the production of red blood cells.

 

My Top Tips 

Although symptoms do go away after treatment has finished, they can last for a few weeks. Try these simple tips below.

Sufficient Sleep 
  • Resting and only doing activities you can handle.
  • Planning activities for when you have the most energy.
  • Aim to get seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Naps are fine but limit yourself to one short 20- to 30-minute nap a day.
  • Check out our power nap blog 'Benefits of Power Naps'
Staying Hydrated
  • Lack of fluid intake can be a cause of anaemia.
  • In one study, they found that water intake may improve anaemia by increasing the hemoglobin index.
  • If you are struggling with this due to nausea and vomiting read our blog 'The Importance of Hydration'
 Iron-Rich Foods
  • Your body absorbs more iron from meat than it does from other sources.
  • If you choose to not eat meat, you may need to increase your intake of iron-rich, plant-based foods to absorb the same amount of iron as does someone who eats meat.

Vitamin C enhances iron absorption

  • You can enhance your body's absorption of iron by drinking citrus juice or eating other foods rich in vitamin C at the same time that you eat high-iron foods.

Keeping a journal of your symptoms

This will help keep your cancer care team up to date and reduce the risk of symptoms becoming worse.