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What is Microcytic Anemia?

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  • Written By: Dulce Corazon
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 28 August 2016
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Anemia is a condition in which the number or count of red blood cells (RBCs) in the circulation is abnormally low. When the decrease in RBC is accompanied by paler and smaller RBCs, it is usually termed microcytic anemia. Micro is a term meaning small, and cytic comes from the medical term cyte, which refers to a cell. Microcytic anemia is commonly caused by the deficiency or lack of iron in the diet, inadequate iron absorption due to intestinal diseases, and by other inherited blood disorders such as thalassemia. Thalassemia is one type of blood disorder in which the body produces abnormally structured hemoglobin.

Hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen throughout the body, is located inside the RBCs. It contains iron and imparts the red color to the blood, thus low iron content usually leads to smaller and paler looking RBCs. During growth and healing the body absorbs and requires more iron, so children, pregnant women and sickly individuals are generally more susceptible to develop iron-deficiency anemia and microcytic anemia. Without iron replacement, the ability of the body to produce new RBCs is often affected. When this happens, the delivery of oxygen to vital organs is also often affected, resulting in the manifestation of symptoms of microcytic anemia.

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Symptoms of microcytic anemia include loss of appetite, mouth sores, thin or brittle fingernails, and pale skin, lips, and eyelids. An affected individual may also experience frequent tiredness, weakness, headache, and light- headedness. Other symptoms are sleeping difficulty and concentration problems, chest pain, irregular and rapid heartbeat, and shortness of breath when exercising. Anemic women also suffer discomfort during heavy menstrual flows.

Medical doctors, who manage patients with microcytic anemia, often evaluate these patients with the help of a blood test called the complete blood count (CBC). This is usually done by taking an adequate amount of blood for analysis in the laboratory. These blood samples are also observed under the microscope, a device that can magnify cells to many times their actual sizes. Results from the CBC includes the number of RBC as well as other blood components and also the level of hemoglobin.

Microcytic anemia treatment often involves investigation of its cause. When found to be caused by iron-deficient diet, doctors often recommend patients include iron-rich foods in the diet as well as take iron supplements. Examples of foods rich in iron content are eggs yolks, liver, beans, and raisins, among many others. There are also foods available that are fortified with iron, such as noodles, breads, and cereals. Blood transfusion is also sometimes needed when a patient with microcytic anemia has a very low RBC count and already presents with severe symptoms.

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