What is the main cause of anaemia?

What is Anaemia?

Anaemia is a common blood disorder that affects millions of people worldwide, of all ages and genders. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including dietary deficiencies, chronic illnesses, and certain medications. It occurs when your body doesn't have enough red blood cells or haemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen to your body's tissues. Lack of sufficient oxygen-carrying cells can lead to a range of symptoms and complications.

What causes Anaemia in cancer treatment?

Unfortunately anaemia is a common side effect of cancer treatment that is rarely discussed. Some cancers cause inflammation that decreases red blood cell production. While many chemotherapies are myelosuppressive, meaning they slow down blood cell production by the bone marrow. 

What is Bone marrow?

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.

As a result of chemotherapy, your bone marrow and kidneys may become damaged. Typically, this does not last long and anaemia improves a few months after chemo is completed. According to one study, 89.5% of people with solid tumours receiving chemotherapy experienced anaemia. There was thankfully only mild to moderate anaemia in the vast majority of these people.

Understanding Anaemia

Anaemia is not a disease in itself but rather a symptom of other conditions. It can be temporary or long-term, mild or severe, depending on its cause. The most common type is iron-deficiency anaemia, which occurs when your body lacks the iron necessary to produce haemoglobin. Other types include vitamin-deficiency anaemias, aplastic anaemia, and haemolytic anaemias.

When you have anaemia, your heart has to work harder to pump oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. This can lead to irregular heart rhythms, an enlarged heart, or even heart failure in severe cases.

What are the effects of anaemia on the body?

The effects of anaemia on the body are wide-ranging and depend largely on its severity and duration. In mild cases, you might not even notice any symptoms. However, as the condition progresses and your body struggles to get enough oxygen-rich blood around your system, you may start feeling constantly tired and weak.

In more severe cases where treatment isn't sought promptly or where underlying causes aren't addressed adequately (such as chronic diseases), complications can occur including damage to organs due to a lack of oxygen supply.

Symptoms of Anaemia

What is the best way to manage anaemia?

The good news is that most forms of anaemia are treatable once diagnosed correctly. Treatment usually involves addressing the underlying cause – for instance replenishing iron levels if it's iron-deficiency anaemia – through dietary changes or supplements. In some cases where red blood cell production is affected (like aplastic anaemia), treatments may involve medications or procedures like bone marrow transplant. 

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.

Read our 'Treatments for Anaemia' Blog for more information

Youtube - Anaemia & Chemo: A Common Side Effect

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