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anaemia-signs-symptoms

Five tell-tale signs you are anaemic

23 Nov 2022 • 9 min read

Juggling long working hours and a busy social life can leave many of us wishing for our beds, but if you regularly find yourself so tired that you struggle to get through the day, it’s a possibility that you could be anaemic.

But what is anaemia? Anaemia is caused by the reduction of red blood cells and haemoglobin in your body.¹ One of the most common forms of anaemia is iron deficiency anaemia, as iron is a key building block of haemoglobin.² In turn, the reduction of red blood cells can lead to tiredness, breathlessness and pale skin.³ If you have limited oxygen-rich red blood cells, your organs will not be receiving enough energy to function at their best.

So, before you take a sip of that energy drink, read on to find out if anaemia is causing your fatigue. Whilst there are many forms of anaemia and it’s true that some of the symptoms are different for each type, common signs of anaemia include:
  1. Regularly feeling tired and low on energy
    Still feel sleepy after 8 hours of snoozing? The easiest symptom to spot, day to day sluggishness is the most common sign of anaemia and is caused by not having enough oxygen to fuel the body. In the case of low iron anaemia, your body may not produce enough haemoglobin or red blood cells to carry enough oxygen to your vital organs, resulting in fatigue.²
  2. Pale skin
    If you have naturally fair skin, there’s no cause for alarm – but if you notice that your complexion seems paler and more washed out than usual, this could be due to a lack of blood supply to the skin. Pale skin can also be linked to low blood sugar³ and circulation issues, so it’s worth getting checked out if you notice significant changes. 
  3. Shortness of breath
    After a hard workout, even the fittest Olympic athletes get out of breath, but if you suddenly find yourself huffing and puffing for no reason anaemia could be to blame. In the same way you might feel tired, you can feel breathless when there aren't enough red blood cells to transport oxygen to your organs and muscles. 
  4. Dizziness
    With fewer red blood cells to carry oxygen to the head and the rest of the body, anaemia can leave people feeling dizzy. This can also present itself in headaches and lightheaded spells, which for some people can happen during a heavy menstrual period. 
  5. Heart palpitations
    Many people with anaemia may find that their heartbeat is more noticeable or seems more rapid than usual, especially during exercise. This can be a cycle if you drink coffee or energy drinks to combat tiredness, as caffeine and sugar can also contribute to heart palpitations.5

Causes of anaemia

Even the healthiest of adults don’t produce iron naturally, so we have to rely on diet and supplements to get it into our bodies. This is why the most common nutritional cause of anaemia is iron deficiency, although low folate, vitamins B12 and A can also lead to anaemia.²

The most common causes are: 
  • A lack of iron in the diet, such as leafy greens, eggs, nuts and red meat 
  • Losing a lot of blood through heavy periods  Gastrointestinal bleeding 
  • Being pregnant, lactating breast feeding or blood loss through childbirth 6

What you can do about anaemia

If you’ve ticked off some or all of these symptoms, step away from that double espresso for now. It may be time to make an appointment with your GP to find out the reasons why you’re running low on energy.

It’s important to find out if you are low on iron before taking extra supplements because high doses (over 20mg a day) can be problematic.7 If your blood test shows that your red blood cell count is deficient (low) you will be prescribed tablets to replenish your bodily supplies.

According to the NHS, the recommended daily amount is:7 
  • 7mg a day for men over 18 
  • 8mg a day for women aged 19 to 50 
  • 7mg a day for women over 50
It’s never a bad thing to fuel your body with iron-rich foods though. It’s a common misconception that vegetarians and vegans diets are lacking in iron – but there are lots of plant based sources of iron too. Even baked beans are a brilliant option! 
  • Broccoli 
  • Spinach 
  • Chickpeas 
  • Nuts and seeds 
  • Baked beans 
  • Lentils 
  • Tofu 
  • Soya milk 
  • Tempeh 
  • Fortified breakfast cereals

Sources

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499994/
  2. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/iron-deficiency-anaemia
  3. https://www.blood.co.uk/news-and-campaigns/the-donor/latest-stories/functions-of-blood-transport-around-the-body/
  4.  https://www.diabetes.co.uk/Diabetes-and-Hypoglycaemia.html
  5. https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/nutrition/ask-the-expert/caffeine-and-atrial-fibrillation#:~:text=However%2C%20some%20people%20are%20more,their%20heart%20pounding%20or%20fluttering).
  6.  https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/blooddisorders/women/menorrhagia.html
  7. https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/pregnancy-complications/anaemia-and-pregnancy
  8.  https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/iron/
 

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