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Anaemia

What is anaemia

Anaemia is the general term for having too less oxygen in your blood, which can make you feel tired and weak. There are different causes for anaemia:

    1. Iron deficiency
    2. Vitamin B12 deficiency

Iron deficiency anaemia

Iron deficiency anaemia is a lack of iron in your blood.

Causes of iron deficiency anaemia

Heavy periods and pregnancy can cause iron deficiency anaemia, this can be treated with medicine. Any other conditions that cause blood loss could also lead to iron deficiency anaemia.

Symptoms:

  • tiredness and lack of energy
  • shortness of breath
  • heart palpitations
  • pale skin

Less common symptoms:

  • headaches
  • hearing ringing, buzzing or hissing noises inside your head (tinnitus)
  • food tasting strange
  • feeling itchy
  • a sore tongue
  • hair loss – you notice more hair coming out when brushing or washing it
  • wanting to eat non-food items, such as paper
  • finding it hard to swallow
  • painful open sores in the corners of your mouth
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Appointment with the doctor (GP)

The doctor will ask you about your lifestyle and medical history. A simple blood test will confirm if you have anaemia, which might be repeatedly done over the next few months to check that your iron level is getting back to normal.The doctor might also refer you to a specialist for further checks.

Treatment for iron deficiency anaemia

You will be prescribed iron tablets to replace the iron that's missing from your body. You’ll need to take the tablets dailey, for about 6 months. Drinking orange juice after you've taken a tablet may help your body absorb the iron.

Side effects might be:

  • constipation or diarrhea
  • tummy pain
  • heartburn
  • feeling sick
  • black poo

Try taking the tablets with or soon after food to reduce the chance of side effects. It's important to keep taking the tablets, even if you get side effects.

Keep iron tablets away from children!

Keep iron supplement tablets out of the reach of children. An overdose of iron in a young child can be fatal.

Things you can do yourself

Eat and drink more:

  • dark-green leafy vegetables like watercress and curly kale
  • cereals and bread with extra iron in them (fortified)
  • meat
  • dried fruit like apricots, prunes and raisins
  • pulses (beans, peas and lentils)
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Eat and drink less:

  • tea
  • coffee
  • milk and dairy
  • foods with high levels of phytic acid, such as wholegrain cereals, which can stop your body absorbing iron from other foods and pills

Untreated iron deficiency anaemia

When untreated, anaemia can make you more at risk of illness and infection. It may increase your risk of developing complications that affect the heart or lungs – such as heart failure. In pregnancy, anaemia can cause a greater risk of complications before and after birth.

Vitamin B12 anaemia

The other type of anaemia is vitamin B12.

Causes of a vitamin B12 or folate deficiency

There are multiple causes that can lead to a vitamin B12 or folate deficiency:

  • pernicious anaemia – your immune system attacks healthy cells in your stomach, preventing your body absorbing vitamin B12 from the food you eat.
  • a lack of vitamin B12 in your diet – this can happen if you have a vegan diet and do not take vitamin B12 supplements. Or if you eat foods fortified with vitamin B12 or follow a fad diet or have a generally poor diet for a long time.
  • medicine – certain medicines can affect how much vitamin B12 your body absorbs

Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency:

  • extreme tiredness
  • pins and needles (small sharp pain)
  • a sore and red tongue
  • mouth ulcers
  • muscle weakness
  • disturbed vision
  • depression and confusion
  • problems with memory, understanding and judgement

Treating vitamin B12 anaemia

You will get vitamin B12 supplements, usually given by injection at first. After that you'll either require B12 tablets between meals or regular injections. These treatments may be needed for the rest of your life.

Things you can do yourself

Eat more:

  • meat
  • fish
  • eggs
  • dairy products
  • yeast extract
  • fortified foods
  • broccoli, brussels sprouts and peas

Complications of vitamin B12 anaemia

  • problems with the nervous system
  • temporary infertility
  • heart conditions
  • pregnancy complications and birth defects

Medication

Iron tablets Folic acid B12 tablets
How long to take 12-16 weeks 10-16 weeks 8-10 weeks
When to take a blood sample? After 4 weeks After 4 weeks After 4 weeks
When to take the tablets? - 2 hours before drinking coffee, tea, milk

- 4 hours after drinking coffee, tea, milk

Source:NHSinform Anaemia & NHSinform Vitamin B12