My first proper Medical Mondays post of 2018 is going to be on a very new diagnosis I’ve received – Anaemia. Up until a few weeks ago I didn’t know much about the condition, & to be honest, I still don’t know very much; so this post is going to be an education for me & for my readers.
So, what is anaemia? Anaemia is a condition caused by a lack of healthy red blood cells or haemoglobin – something carried within your red blood cells that ensures that your organs get enough oxygen (source). A lack of healthy red blood cells and/or haemoglobin is caused by losing blood, your body destroying your red blood cells, or your body not producing enough red blood cells (source).
There are several different types of anaemia, including iron deficiency anaemia, vitamin deficiency anaemia, anaemia of chronic disease (e.g. cancer, HIV, arthritis, kidney disease & Crohn’s disease), aplastic anaemia, anaemia related to bone marrow disease, hemolytic anaemia, sickle cell anaemia, & several other types (source). My anaemia is connected to a deficiency in B12 & folic acid.
B12 & folic acid (folate) deficiency anaemia usually shows itself via extra large red blood cells that aren’t able to do their job properly. The symptoms for this kind of anaemia are:
- Extreme tiredness (I have chronic fatigue already),
- A lack of energy,
- Pins & needles (this is also a symptom of syringomyelia),
- A sore & red tongue,
- Mouth ulcers (if you follow me on Twitter you’ll know that I have had a lot of ulcers over the past 6 months),
- Muscle weakness (I have this anyway),
- Disturbed vision,
- Psychological problems such as depression & confusion,
- Problems with memory, understanding & judgement.
A lot of the symptoms are things I already experience so I blamed the extra symptoms, like mouth ulcers, on stress – but boy, was I wrong. The things that usually cause B12 or folate deficiency are when your immune system attacks healthy cells in your stomach, resulting in your body not being able to extract vitamin B12 from food, a lack of vitamins in your diet or taking certain medications. The most common cause is pernicious anaemia, which is when your immune system attacks the healthy cells (source), so for now I’m assuming that’s the cause of my anaemia… but, in recent months money issues have meant that my mum & I have struggled to buy decent food, so it could also be due to a lack of vitamins in my diet – I won’t know the definite cause until further tests are done. Other causes include urinating too much (something I do because of my interstitial cystitis) (source), drinking too much alcohol, your stomach not working correctly or because you’re pregnant (source).
Treatment for the kind of anaemia I’ve developed includes vitamins, injections & medication to replace the missing B12 & folic acid; my doctor has written me a prescription for folic acid supplements & I’ve been told it’s very likely that I’ll have to be on B12 injections for the rest of my life… again, this is something that will be confirmed after more blood tests are carried out.
Generally, being anaemic doesn’t cause any long-term issues, other than the symptoms I mentioned above, but in some cases it can cause problems with the nervous system (something I already deal with, therefore making me more vulnerable to more problems), temporary infertility, heart conditions, pregnancy complications & birth defects (this is why pregnant women are advised to take folic acid) (source). It also means that your organs have to work a lot harder than usual, which obviously isn’t a good thing.
This diagnosis has knocked me off kilter a little bit as I wasn’t expecting it; I went to the doctors feeling like I may have irritable bowel syndrome & I was sent for blood tests to make sure that nothing else could be causing the symptoms I was experiencing… although the anaemia diagnosis has helped to explain why I’ve been feeling even more unwell than usual over the last 6 months, I still hate that this means more medication & more doctors’ appointments. I also haven’t found anyone else with the condition to talk to about it so if you’ve ever been diagnosed with it I would really appreciate a DM on Twitter.