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Potentially fatal anaemia cases are on the rise

Potentially fatal anaemia cases are on the rise – watch out for lesser-known signs, urges expert.

Research shows cases of anaemia – a potentially fatal condition – are on the rise, and most likely to hit younger or pregnant women in the UK. A leading expert reveals many little-known warning signs to look out for.

Recent research reveals anaemia, a potentially fatal condition often caused by iron deficiency, is on the rise. Cases have risen by 420 million over the last three decades and one fourth of the global population are now anaemic. Women are more likely to have the condition. 31.2% of women have anaemia compared to 17.5% of men.

In the UK, 57,000 emergency admissions each year are due to iron deficiency anaemia. 23% of pregnant women in Britain have the condition and up to 12% of all premenopausal women.

Anaemia can be fatal if untreated. However, despite the fact that it can be identified by a simple, finger-prick blood test, it’s likely that many cases are going undiagnosed, warns a leading expert.

Dr Avinash Hari Narayanan (MBChB), Clinical Lead at London Medical Laboratory, says: ‘Anaemia, often caused by iron deficiency, can be a killer if left untreated. Anaemia results in a decreased oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. In the short term, the body tries to compensate with an increase in heart rate and respiratory rate. However, this is not sustainable long term and can lead to heart failure, angina, arrhythmias, cognitive impairment and renal failure. In pregnant women, untreated anaemia can cause premature birth and low birth weight.

‘Cases are on the rise. Recent research published in The Lancet reveals 1.92 billion people globally have anaemia, up from 1.50 billion in 1990. Here in the UK, 12% of women of childbearing age are thought to have the condition. Yet, many Brits never suspect it. It is also important to note that people can become anaemic if they are deficient in Vitamin B12 and folic acid. At times, anaemia can become a precursor for a more serious underlying medical condition.

‘There are a number of quite well-known symptoms that many people are aware of. These include tiredness and a lack of energy, shortness of breath, heart palpitations and a pale complexion. Anyone suffering from these symptoms is recommended to seek medical advice and consider having a blood test to check for potential causes.

‘However, while pregnant and younger women should pay particular attention, it’s important that all Brits look out for these lesser-known signs:

  • frequent headache
  • tinnitus (a noise in the ears)
  • an altered sense of taste
  • feeling itchy
  • a sore or abnormally smooth tongue
  • hair loss
  • a desire to eat non-food items, such as ice, paper or clay (known as pica)
  • difficulty swallowing (known as dysphagia)
  • painful, open ulcers on the corners of the mouth
  • spoon-shaped nails

‘Very often, anaemia caused by iron deficiency can be easily treated with supplements and dietary changes. It is important to get symptoms checked out, though. In men and post-menopausal women, a common cause is bleeding in the stomach and intestines. This could be caused by a stomach ulcer, stomach cancer, bowel cancer or by taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

‘You can contact your GP to take a blood test, or they are also now available as a simple, finger-prick test that can be taken at home. London Medical Laboratory’s Iron Status Profile test will comprehensively analyse the body’s iron levels and stores by measuring iron, ferritin, transferrin saturation and iron-binding capacity.

‘Total iron-binding capacity (TIBC) analysis is the capacity of blood cells to carry iron. Transferrin saturation is another way of showing how well blood is using the iron in your body. Ferritin is a protein that stores iron. If it is low, then your iron stores are low. Ferritin also functions as a very important measure of inflammation, so if there is inflammation for any other reason (such as autoimmune conditions, infections or excessive alcohol), it may be very high.

‘London Medical Laboratory’s Iron Status Profile blood test can be taken at home through the post, or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer these tests across London and nationwide in over 120 selected pharmacies and health stores.

 

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