Do know anyone with anemia? Chances are, you do. Anemia is fairly common, especially among children and pregnant women. It’s also prevalent among seniors. But is it serious?
The answer is yes. Because it’s so common, and often related to chronic health conditions, many people assume it’s a minor problem that isn’t really a big deal. The truth is that while anemia can be minor and easily treated, it can also be a life-threatening condition that requires an immediate blood transfusion.
In this article, we’ll discuss the affects of anemia in seniors; common causes; and how to treat it.
Anemia: Definition and Symptoms
Anemia is a lower-than-normal red blood cell count. Red blood cells are an important part of the circulatory system. They move oxygen around your body, using a protein in the red blood cells called hemoglobin. Oxygen is vital to the body. Without it, individual cells start to die, sparking organ failure. In anemia, the body’s cells are consistently deprived of oxygen, wreaking havoc on the body.
When your hemoglobin count falls below normal levels—typically 12 grams per tenth of a liter of blood—you become anemic. The most common symptom of anemia is fatigue and weakness. Many people who first experience unusual weakness chalk it up to “aging.” While that is sometimes true, most of the time it points to something serious, such as anemia.
You should go for an evaluation right away if you have any of these symptoms:
- Constant tiredness
- High heart rate
- Lower blood pressure
- Pale skin
- Shortness of breath
A simple blood test that includes a complete blood count check will tell you if your hemoglobin levels are normal or too low.
Anemia in seniors, even when borderline, can be serious. Seniors with anemia are more likely than non-anemic seniors to experience decline in function and be admitted to a hospital. This is the main reason for seniors to have regular routine blood screening. Checking your complete blood count periodically can catch anemia even if you’re ignoring any symptoms or the symptoms are still light.
Anemia can either come on suddenly or develop over a period of time. The difference in onset can help determine the causes of the anemia and which kind of treatment to use. In some cases, doctors aren’t able to pinpoint a specific cause for anemia. Even then, treatment can still be effective.
The basic trigger of anemia is that the bone marrow isn’t producing enough red blood cells. In most cases, there’s an underlying condition that causes the suppressed production. When you treat the condition, you will very often resolve the anemia as well.
Here are the two main causes of anemia in seniors:
- Iron deficiency. Without sufficient iron, your body can’t produce enough hemoglobin. You might be iron deficient if you have blood loss; take certain medications or undergo chemotherapy; have sudden weight loss, or poor iron absorption. Other vitamin deficiencies—such as B12, folate, or zinc—can also cause or contribute to anemia.
- Chronic disease. Certain chronic conditions can affect your hemoglobin level. It’s called “anemia of chronic disease” or ACD. Seniors with ACD often have enough iron and other nutrients, but because of their disease, the ion is not being used efficiently to produce new red blood cells.
To treat anemia, your doctor will probably run more tests to determine exactly why your hemoglobin is low. Based on the cause, the right treatment might be taking an iron supplement, changing to a medication that doesn’t affect your iron in the same way, or treating your chronic condition.
In extreme situations, you may need a blood transfusion. It’s an outpatient procedure in which you get compatible donor blood infused into your blood stream. This gives you some badly needed hemoglobin, and you’ll usually start feeling better right away.
If you think the senior in your life might have anemia, bring it up to their doctor or other healthcare provider immediately. Untreated anemia can have devastating affects on a senior’s physical ability, quality of life, and ultimately, their life itself. There’s no reason to suffer with anemia or “tolerate” the exhaustion, weakness, and other symptoms.
Anemia is usually treatable, so get your loved one checked today.