June issue of Clinic Women's HealthSource provides overview of anemia

Anemia is not a normal part of aging, yet it's fairly common in older adults and causes frailness, weakness and increased risk of falls. According to Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource, more than one in 10 older adults has anemia. Twenty percent of women are anemic by age 85.

The June issue of the newsletter provides an overview of anemia, including symptoms, causes, diagnostic tests and treatment options.

Anemia occurs when the number of red blood cells in the blood drop below normal, or the red blood cells don't contain enough hemoglobin, the iron-rich protein that gives blood its red color. The classic anemia symptoms are pale skin, fatigue and shortness of breath or weakness. In older adults, initial symptoms may be fainting spells, chest pain or confusion. Because many tissues and organs can be affected, other symptoms are possible, too, including dizziness, cold hands and feet, headaches and a fast heartbeat. Highlights from the report include:

Most common cause: Iron deficiency anemia, caused by blood loss, is the most common type of anemia. Chronic bleeding in small amounts over a long time depletes the body of iron. In older adults, blood loss usually stems from intestinal diseases, such as ulcers, colon polyps, diverticulitis or cancer. Aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen can also cause bleeding.

Other causes: Vitamin B-12 and folate are needed to produce healthy blood cells. When these nutrients are missing from the diet, or the body can't absorb B-12 from food, anemia can result. Some long-term illness can cause anemia, too. Examples include rheumatoid arthritis, HIV/AIDS, cancer, cirrhosis and other forms of liver disease.

Treatment: Anemia isn't a disease, but rather a sign of an underlying problem, so treatment is tailored to the cause. For those with iron deficiency anemia, eating iron-rich foods can help. Examples include fortified cereals and breads, red meat, peas, beans, lentils, eggs, spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruits (raisins, apricots and peaches), tofu, chicken and pork. Supplements, when recommended by a doctor, may also be helpful. Severe anemia may require transfusions, medication to prevent the body's immune system from destroying its own red blood cells, or a synthetic version of the hormone erythropoietin to stimulate the bone marrow to make more red blood cells.

Even mild anemia can take a toll on energy levels and quality of life. When anemia is suspected, consult a doctor about a complete blood count to check for the condition. Just a small increase in blood count numbers can boost energy and help maintain an active life.

SOURCE Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource


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