Deficiencies of blood, According to doctors at Harvard Medical School,
“Anemia is not a specific disease; it describes a state of affairs.” That is, anemia – a deficiency in the amount of hemoglobin they contain – is simply a sign of one of several underlying problems. Some of these are common and easily treated; others are rare and sometimes fatal.
Whatever its cause, anemia may make the body function poorly because it does not get enough oxygen from the blood. People who are anemic often feel weak, tired, run down, breathless, and sometimes faint after exercise, or in severe cases, at rest.
Anemia can take a variety of forms. Iron-deficiency anemia, in which the body cannot manufacture enough of the oxygen-bearing, iron-containing blood protein, hemoglobin, is the commonest kind of anemia; treatment includes iron supplements. Folic-acid deficiency, usually the result of inadequacies of diet or the body’s inability to absorb folic acid, can also cause anemia; it is readily treated with folic-acid supplements.
Pernicious anemia, caused by a lack of vitamin B12 in the diet, or by the inability of the intestine to absorb the vitamin because of the absence of a special protein called intrinsic factor, is more serious; treatment for this condition involves the periodic injection of vitamin B12.
Can X Rays Produce Anemia?
Heavy or repeated exposure to X rays, radioactive substances, microwaves, and other high-energy emissions can produce a condition known as aplastic anemia. After such exposure, the bone marrow may produce fewer red and white blood cells. The deficiency of red cells causes the classic symptoms of anemia, while the reduced number of white cells increases the risk of infection.
Aplastic anemia may also develop from other causes such as exposure to benzene, arsenic, gold compounds, and other toxic chemicals. In some cases, drugs taken for other disorders lead to aplastic anemia, and your doctor may try to reduce the dosage or substitute another drug.
Are Some People More Vulnerable to Anemia Than Others?
Sickle-cell anemia occurs most frequently in people of African descent, while Cooley’s anemia is almost entirely confined to those of Mediterranean descent. Both types of anemia are caused by a genetic mutation that produces no symptoms unless a person has inherited the mutant gene from both parents. At present, there is treatment but no cure for sickle-cell anemia. The only means of prevention is genetic counseling.
Victims of Cooley’s anemia not only produce abnormally small quantities of hemoglobin, but their red cells are uncommonly thin and fragile. The prognosis for children born with the disorder is poor, although periodic blood transfusions can prolong life.
Can Anyone Get Hemophilia?
Most people need not worry about hemophilia. This hereditary disease, whose victims can bleed to death from a seemingly minor injury because their blood does not clot properly, afflicts only 1 male out of 10,000 in the United States. Nearly all those who suffer from it are men because hemophilia is the result of a defective gene attached to the X chromosome, one of two chromosome, and if that one carries a defective clotting gene, they are certain to have hemophilia.
Women, however, have two X chromosomes; a defective clotting gene on one of them is usually counterbalanced by a normal gene on the other. Thus women suffer from hemophilia only if they inherit two defective genes, one from each parent.
Most hemophiliac used to die in infancy. Now, however, they are likely to live to adulthood – and thus to marry and pass on their hemophilia gene. How is this possible? Because scientists can now obtain the purified missing clotting factor from the blood of normal donors and inject it into hemophiliacs.
This development does not mean that victims of the disease can lead normal lives. They may require many injections of clotting factor every year, at a cost of thousands of dollars. They also face special hazards when they need surgery or dental care. And they must restrict their activities sharply to avoid injury.