July 24, 2020

Bad Blood: Anemia Symptoms, Solutions and a New Treatment Center

Looking at blood through microscopeBy Carolyn Comeau

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes an anemic performance as “lacking force, vitality or spirit,” but the origins of this usage are definitely rooted in the medical condition of anemia. “The sole purpose of red blood cells,” explained Albert Quiery, MD, hematologist and Medical Director at Mission Medical Oncology, “is to carry oxygen from the lungs to your body’s tissues. If you don’t have enough of them, your ability to deliver oxygen to where it’s needed is impaired, resulting in anemia.”

Dr. Quiery noted that the major symptoms of anemia include fatigue, muscle cramps, dizziness and becoming winded with exertion, like climbing a flight of stairs. An odder symptom is the desire to chew on ice. “The symptoms may be easy to dismiss at first, but as anemia intensifies, they really affect daily living,” said Dr. Quiery.

Problems in the Blood

There are many types of anemia, but each falls under one of three broad categories: Anemia related to blood loss, red blood cell destruction, or flawed or insufficient production of red blood cells. “Red blood cells are made in your bone marrow, and the essential element needed to make blood is iron, as well as vitamin B12, folate and copper,” stated Dr. Quiery.

A significant at-risk group for iron-deficiency anemia is women, due to the blood loss associated with monthly menstruation, as well as people who have had surgery. “With menstruation, the average female loses 1.5 milligrams of iron a day, while a male loses only 1 milligram,” said Dr. Quiery. Children who experience a growth spurt can also fall short in the iron department, because the muscles engaged in growth during adolescence are the biggest utilizers of iron, second only to bone marrow.

Vegans and vegetarians are also at risk as they often have vitamin B12 deficiencies, while pregnant and breastfeeding women’s iron supplies are used more quickly as their bodies support a growing fetus or nursing baby.

Hemolytic anemia is the result of increased red cell destruction. “A well-known example of this type of anemia is sickle cell disease, an inherited disorder that primarily affects the African American population. People with mechanical heart valves may also develop a hemolytic anemia,” said Dr. Quiery. Individuals with autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, chronic infections and cancer can develop anemia related to the inflammation associated with these disorders, an anemia of chronic disease.

Dr. Quiery also noted that even more common conditions, like morbid obesity, can lead to anemia because of the associated inflammation that suppresses red blood cell production. Finally, patients may also develop anemia from bone marrow failure related to leukemia, myeloma, myelodysplasia or aplastic anemia.

Multiple Ways to Treat Anemia

Fortunately, there are multiple treatments available for anemia sufferers, including dietary supplementation in the forms of oral and intravenous iron, vitamin B12 shots or oral supplements, and oral folic acid and copper supplements.

At home, people can eat some of the many iron-fortified foods on the market and naturally iron-rich sources like beef, sardines and cooked beans. “For other types of anemia,” said Dr. Quiery, “the focus is on treating their underlying condition. Renal failure patients can receive hormone shots, erythropoietin, while patients who are very profoundly anemic may require a blood transfusion.”

Opening of Rapid Access Anemia Management Clinic

On July 1, an important new treatment center for anemic patients opened its doors, the Rapid Access Anemia Management Clinic at Mission Cancer Center. “Previously, when someone was significantly anemic and arrived at their primary care physician’s office, the emergency room, or for preop bloodwork, they’d need to go immediately to the hospital to get their anemia treated. This increased the risk for postsurgical complications and longer hospital stays for surgical patients whose procedures needed to be postponed,” Dr. Quiery said. “Now, if we encounter a profoundly anemic individual or someone with recurrent anemia, we quickly administer IV iron so they can avoid hospitalization or the need for a transfusion.”

The clinic’s location at the Mission Cancer Center is a “win-win” for patients, according to Dr. Quiery, because there’s a hematologist and infusion room on-site. “The Rapid Access Anemia Management Clinic is a first for Mission and an ideal complement to our hematology services. We’re already seeing our patients benefit from the quick, safe, and cost-effective solutions the clinic offers.”

Albert Quiery, MD, is a hematologist and Medical Director at Mission Medical Oncology.

To learn more about the Rapid Access Anemia Management Clinic, click here.