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Sickle Cell Anemia

Anemia is a lower than normal number of red blood cells (erythrocytes) in the blood. When the number of red blood cells falls below normal, this is called anemia. It is usually measured by a decrease in the amount of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the red pigment in red blood cells that transports oxygen.

The human body is made up of billions of small cells which are grouped together in the various specialized organs such as the lungs, heart, liver, etc. These cells work behind the scenes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to keep you healthy and active. Day in and day out they quietly perform many functions such as growth and repair of tissues, production of heat, motion, circulation, digestion, and so forth. Every single cell is like a tiny machine that needs many things to do its job, including oxygen. The oxygen comes from the air that you breathe and this oxygen needs to be delivered to each and every cell.


This is precisely why you need the circulatory system. The circulatory system is also known as your bloodstream. Your blood stream is a river of fluid called plasma. It is in constant motion pulsing forward within your arteries and veins with each beat of your heart. Floating within this river are three types of living cells each with a specific job.

  • Red blood cells aka RBC - Carry oxygen to all parts of the body

  • White blood cells aka WBC - Fight infection

  • Platelets aka PLT - Clot your blood when injured


RBCs are produced in the bone marrow and make up the majority of the cells in your blood. As your blood constantly circulates, these red blood cells are like "delivery boys" picking up a load of oxygen as they travel through your lungs and dropping off the oxygen when they travel past the cells. They repeat this journey over and over thousands of times each day. Your heart pumps about 3 ounces of blood with each beat and over 24 hours it will move about 3000 gallons of blood.


Red blood cells excel at oxygen delivery because they are made of a special red-colored pigment called hemoglobin which selectively grabs oxygen molecules. Each red blood cell contains several hundred hemoglobin molecules. Hemoglobin is mostly made of iron, a natural mineral. Just like a factory needs steel to make cars, your bone marrow needs iron to create hemoglobin and new red blood cells. But you need just the right amount. Too much iron is toxic to the body and can lead to organ damage. However, if iron levels are too low, hemoglobin production drops and fewer red blood cells are created.


There are many types of anemia, but that due to insufficient iron is, of course, called iron deficiency anemia. It has nothing to do with leukemia or cancer of the bone marrow. Iron deficiency anemia is universally the most common form of anemia affecting about 5% of American women and 2% of men. Research indicates that anemia has been described in manuscripts that are more than 3,000 years old.


Your bloodstream needs a certain number of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets to function properly. Your doctor can order blood tests to measure the number of each cell type in your blood and compare it to the normal levels. This blood test is a called a Complete Blood Count, or CBC. One common way to estimate the number of red blood cells is to measure the amount of hemoglobin present in the blood - expressed in grams of hemoglobin per 100 cc of blood. A low hemoglobin is another sign of anemia. Men with Hemoglobin measurements less than 14 and less than 12 for women are considered anemic.

There are many types and potential causes of anemia:

  • Anemia - B12 deficiency

  • Anemia - folate deficiency

  • Anemia - iron deficiency

  • Anemia due to chronic disease

  • Hemolytic anemia

  • Hemolytic anemia - G-6-PD deficiency

  • Idiopathic aplastic anemia

  • Idiopathic autoimmune hemolytic anemia

  • Immune hemolytic anemia

  • Immune hemolytic anemia - drug-induced

  • Megaloblastic anemia

  • Pernicious anemia

  • Secondary aplastic anemia

  • Sickle cell anemia

  • Causes, incidence, and risk factors

The cause varies with the type of anemia. Potential causes include blood loss, nutritional deficiency, various diseases, reactions caused by medication and various problems with the bone marrow.

Iron deficiency anemia is most common in women who have heavy menstrual periods.

Risk factors include heavy periods, pregnancy, older age, and diseases that cause anemia.


Possible symptoms include:

  • Fatigue

  • Chest pain - angina

  • Shortness of breath

  • Signs and tests

On physical examination there will be the presence of a pale complexion and rapid heart rate.

Anemia can be confirmed by a red blood count or hemoglobin level. Other confirmation tests depend on the type of anemia.


Treatment should be directed at the cause of the anemia. In some cases, blood transfusions and the medication erythropoeitin will correct anemia.


The outcome depends on the cause.


Severe anemia can be fatal. It can cause low oxygen levels in vital organs. Your vital organs are those that are vital to your survival, such as your heart, lungs and liver. For example: Severe anemia can lead to heart attack.


Call your doctor if you have any symptoms of anemia or any unusual bleeding.

DISCLAIMER: **This web site's goal is to provide you with information that may be useful in attaining optimal health. Nothing in it is meant as a prescription or as medical advice. You should check with your physician before implementing any changes in your exercise or lifestyle habits, especially if you have physical problems or are taking medications of any kind.