What is anemia?
Anemia is a blood disorder which affects hemoglobin and red blood cells. Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body. You need iron to make hemoglobin. Most people who have anemia are iron deficient.
It is the number of red blood cells going below normal. Hence, the body parts lack oxygen. They cannot function and cause problems. You can develop anemia if your body does not make enough red blood cells or destroy them or if you lose too much blood.
It is a common side effect of cancer and cancer treatment, especially chemotherapy.
How bad is my anemia?
Mild: Hemoglobin (Hgb) level is between 10.0 g/dL to 13.2 g/dL. You may have headache, fatigue and dizziness. Most of the time, mild anemia can be safely managed at home (see the section below).
Moderate: Hgb level is between 8.0 -10.0 g/dL. You may also experience chest pain, yellowish skin, weakness, cold hand and feet. It can sometimes be safely managed at home or may require the attention of medical team.
Severe: Hgb level is less than 8.0 g/dL. You may have shortness of breath, heart palpitation and pale skin. Also you are at high risk of getting infection. It may be an emergency and require additional medical treatments or hospitalization.
How to manage mild anemia?
- Take iron supplements orally.
- Eat foods high in iron and foods that help your body absorb iron (foods with Vitamin C).
- Consume foods high in folic acid and vitamin B12.
- If you have chronic kidney disease, or CKD, opt for intravenous (IV) infusion iron supplements
- Transfusions of red blood cells.
How to manage moderate and severe anemia?
What causes anemia?
- Chemotherapy can damage bone marrow. The damage does not last and it improves after a few months of chemotherapy. Chemotherapy with platinum-based drugs may harm the kidneys. These drugs include Cisplatin (Platinol) and carboplatin (Paraplatin).
- Radiation therapy to large areas of the body can damage bone marrow.
- Leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma damage bone marrow. Cancer that spreads to the bone or bone marrow may destroy healthy red blood cells.
- Nausea, vomiting, and appetite loss.
- You can lose red blood cells faster than your body can make them. This may happen after surgery or if a tumor causes bleeding inside your body.
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