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Anemia

How Is Anemia Treated?

Friday, April 12, 2013 - 17:16

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

The treatment for anemia depends on the type and cause.

  • Iron deficiency anemia is treated with iron (ferrous sulphate) supplements, initially taken three times a day. If nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhea or constipation occur, the medication may be taken with a little bit of food. Treatment should be continued for three to six months in order for the body to fully replenish its iron supply. As long as excessive bleeding is not present and there are no other complicating factors, the anemia will be corrected within a few weeks. However, if the iron deficiency is caused by blood loss that is not due to menstruation, the source of bleeding must be found and stopped. This may require surgery.
  • Pernicious anemia, or vitamin B-12 deficiency, is treated by a life-long course of intramuscular injections of B-12. Persons with this type of anemia receive a shot of B-12 several times a week when first diagnosed. The treatment may continue for life, with one shot about four times a year.
  • Folic acid deficiency anemia can be corrected by taking folic acid supplements once a day.
  • Hereditary hemolytic anemias, such as thalassemia is treated by first eliminating any existing infections and avoiding medications that suppress the body's immune system. These medications may attack red blood cells. In addition, persons with these types of anemia may require regular blood transfusions.
  • Sickle cell anemia patients may be given oxygen, oral and intravenous fluids and pain-killing drugs to reduce pain and prevent complications. Antibiotics are commonly prescribed as well. Sufferers will need blood transfusions when the anemia becomes severe or if misshapen hemoglobin needs to be replaced. In some cases, a bone marrow transplant may be effective. Adult patients may be treated with the cancer drug hydroxyurea (brand names Droxia, Hydrea).
  • Sometimes rare aplastic anemias and autoimmune hemolytic anemias will respond to steroids. Failure to respond to steroids may require removal of the spleen which can become enlarged with defective red blood cells. Aplastic anemias may require blood transfusions and medications to fight infections.

Other treatment options may be appropriate based on the cause of the anemia.

For instance, if the bone marrow has failed because of leukemia, intensive chemotherapy may be required. Bone marrow transplantation may be contemplated if a suitable donor exists.

With proper treatment, many types of anemia can be eliminated, especially those caused by iron deficiency and vitamin deficiency.

Need To Know:

Most cases of anemia are mild. Without treatment, however, serious problems can occur, since the reduction in red blood cells decreases the ability to absorb oxygen from the lungs.

Certain inherited forms of anemia, including thalassemia major, pernicious anemia, and sickle cell anemia can be life threatening.

You should never self-diagnose yourself with anemia. The symptoms of fatigue and weakness can be the result of many other diseases. If you suspect you have anemia, contact your doctor.

Anemia