Treating anaemia

Treating anaemia

Once an underlying cause and the severity of anaemia has been determined, an appropriate treatment plan can be recommended to ensure that an anaemic condition is effectively handled, and potential complications are avoided.

We’ve listed some of the more common causes and their treatment plans below:

  • Cause > Iron-deficiency anaemia: Dietary changes and recommended iron supplements are generally advised where the body is found to be lacking in iron. Where it is also determined that an iron deficiency is occurring as a result of high loss of blood (other than through menstruation), the source of the bleeding will need to be located and stopped (sometimes through surgery). No iron supplements should be taken without the express knowledge or prescribed recommendation of your doctor. This needs to be monitored as too much iron is toxic for the body and can result in poisoning if the body isn’t able to easily excrete it as waste.
  • Cause > Vitamin deficiency anaemias: Dietary supplements of vitamin B-12 and folic acid will be recommended to ensure a healthy supply for your system to use effectively in your RBC production. If it is determined that you have a normal supply but your body has a deficiency in absorbing it from the food you consume, your doctor may recommend vitamin B-12 injections (shots). These may be administered every other day, or once a month. In some instances, these injections may form part of a chronic treatment plan for the rest of your lifetime. The nature of your condition and severity of anaemia will help to determine the frequency of these injections.
  • Cause > An associated chronic condition: In this case your doctor is likely to implement a treatment plan that manages the underlying disease or condition causing the anaemia, rather than treating the anaemia itself. Severe situations may involve blood transfusions or synthetic erythropoietin injections (a hormone that is normally produced by the kidneys) to assist with RBC production (which may help alleviate severe fatigue symptoms).
  • Cause > Haemolytic anaemias: If the cause is potentially due to a medication, these may be discontinued. Infections and medications that suppress the immune system will need to be carefully managed or treated to alleviate anaemia symptoms and reduce the debilitating effect on the body’s RBCs (attacking the blood cells). In severe instances, blood transfusions or plasmapheresis (a type of blood-filtering treatment) may be recommended. In other instances of severe anaemia, the spleen may be removed to encourage symptom relief.
  • Cause > Aplastic anaemia and related bone marrow disease and dysfunctions: Common treatment options may include blood transfusions (to help replenish RBCs) or a bone marrow transplant if severe damage is determined and the body can’t produce a healthy supply of RBCs. Other treatments associated with bone marrow disease include medications and chemotherapy.
  • Cause > Hereditary anaemic conditions: If the underlying cause is sickle cell disease (sickle cell anaemia), treatment may involve oral and intravenous fluids and medications, such as hydroxyurea (commonly used to treat cancer) to help alleviate symptoms of debilitating pain associated with the condition. Oxygen (oxygen therapy) may also be administered, as well as doses of folic acid supplements, antibiotics and blood transfusions. Bone marrow transplants are also an option. Thalassemia is another condition that may be treated with blood transfusions, medications, folic acid supplements, a bone marrow / stem cell transplant and even a splenectomy (removal of the spleen).

Follow-up treatment for anaemia

This will also depend on the anaemia type and underlying cause. Your doctor may recommend more blood testing (such as a CBC – complete blood count test) and follow-up consultations to assess your overall response to treatment. It is important that you keep these consultations, so that your doctor is able to ensure any necessary treatment adjustments for your overall well-being.

What is the outlook for anaemia?

The long-term outlook for anaemia is directly related to the underlying cause, severity and success of treatment. If the cause can be stopped in its tracks and treatment is effective, there should not be any long-term complications as a result of anaemia. If there is any tissue or organ damage associated with symptoms of anaemia, long-term monitoring or treatment may be necessary.

As a rule of thumb, younger individuals typically recover more easily than seniors do. The effects of anaemia in older people tend to be more severe due to an underlying chronic condition. Symptoms of anaemia tend to worsen the effects of the chronic condition in seniors.

All in all, anaemia is a treatable condition, but it can become highly complicated and even life-threatening if not sufficiently managed. It’s important to pay attention to your body and talk to your doctor if any symptoms concern you. Relapses can occur, but if the underlying cause is easily treatable, it can be as resolved fairly quickly.

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