What Is Anemia?

What Is Anemia?

Anemia affects 3 million Americans, so most people have heard of the term. However, I have found that much confusion surrounds the disease. Anemia is a generic term for a low number of red blood cells or when the red blood cells don’t function properly. Managing anemia is a big part of my job as a pediatric oncologist because chemotherapy shuts down the bone marrow where the red blood cells are created.

Red Blood Cell Facts

  1. They are red (isn’t medicine fun and easy!)
  2. They are what carries oxygen in the blood via hemoglobin (an iron rich protein)
  3. Mature red blood cells have no nucleus or DNA
  4. There are many different diseases and medications that can affect red blood cells

Anemia Facts

  1. The most common causes are nutritional deficiencies, including iron deficiency
  2. Inherited forms of anemia exist, such as sickle cell anemia

Symptoms of Anemia

  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Pounding or “whooshing” in your ears
  • Headache
  • Cold hands or feet
  • Pale or yellow skin
  • Chest pain
  • Or….nothing at all. It can depend on the severity of the disease, how long it has been happening, and the individual patient.

Treatment for Anemia

  • Treatment depends on the cause of the anemia; here are some examples:
    • If you have iron deficient anemia, your physician may check for sources of chronic blood loss (like in the GI tract) and prescribe iron supplements
    • If you have a sudden loss of blood from trauma, your physician will likely replace those red blood cells with a “blood transfusion” (which is actually not whole blood, it’s just the red blood cells) because the body cannot adjust to swift changes such as rapid blood loss.
    • If the anemia is due to a chronic health condition such as inflammatory bowel disease, then treating the underlying health condition will often correct the anemia
    • If your bone marrow doesn’t work properly because you are getting chemotherapy, your physician will give you a “blood transfusion” when the hemoglobin number drops too low. ,
      • Most children who get chemotherapy treatment need at least one, but usually multiple blood transfusions throughout their treatment plan
      • Improvements in the safety and availability of blood products has improved the outcomes of childhood cancer patients. We would not be able to give nearly as much chemotherapy to our patients if blood products were unavailable and their survival outcomes would be much worse.

Become a blood donor today. Find out how at the American Red Cross, The Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center or search for “blood donation centers near me” on any search engine.

Source : https://beyondthecoat.com/what-is-anemia-and-why-its-important-for-childhood-cancer/
Author : Dr. Wendy


Wendy Allen-Rhoades is a pediatric oncologist (cancer doctor). She considers it a privilege to walk beside them, and the ones who love them, on a journey with indescribable highs and sometimes devastating lows. She believes caring for kids with cancer has made her a better doctor, wife, friend, mother and human, and for that she is grateful.