Are you anaemic?


Spotted in Medpagetoday: Anemia Unchecked Worldwide

Anemia affects a third of the world’s population and accounts for almost 10% of years lived with disability (YLD), according to a review of data from 187 nations.

One third of the world’s population!
When we talk about blood diseases, the “elephant in the room” is not leukaemia or some other blood cancer but is in fact anaemia, or simply “lack of red blood cells”.  Too little attention is being paid to the one of the commonest types of anaemia often seen in women and children in this part of the world – iron deficiency anaemia.

Symptoms include lethargy, weakness, dizziness, palpitations, shortness of breath, cold hands and feet and sometimes vague bodyaches and  poor memory. In children slowed growth and development, poor school performance,  behavioral problems and sometimes pica. Women are especially prone due to menstrual blood losses, pregnancy and breastfeeding all of which result in iron loss. Vegetarians or those who consume less meat, poultry and fish may also be at risk due to the latter being better dietary sources of iron. In adults sometimes investigations may be necessary to look for sources of bleeding e.g. from the stomach or large intestine when the cause of iron deficiency is not clear.
While those more severely affected will have physical signs like pallor, smooth tongue and brittle nails, a definitive diagnosis requires a blood test. The tests are a simple Full blood count (tell tale signs are a low haemoglobin associated with a low MCV) and a low serum ferritin (which measures iron stores) will confirm iron deficiency.

Treatment usually entails taking iron tablets for a sufficient duration of time to correct not only the anaemia but to replenish the iron stores. A common mistake is to stop the iron replacement too early, before the iron stores are replete, so make sure you discuss with your doctor how long you should take iron tablets for.
In Malaysia, the other common cause of a slightly low haemoglobin and low MCV is Thalassaemia and carriers typically show such a full blood picture, hence the need to confirm the diagnosis of iron deficiency before embarking on treatment.


Malaysian physician, haematologist, blogger, web and tech enthusiast