What are the symptoms of anaemia and how can you treat them?

More than 30% of the world's population is anaemic

(Image credit: David Silverman / Getty)

Two billion people – over 30% of the world’s population – currently suffer from anaemic, according to the World Health Organisation.

Here’s what you need to know about anaemia and how to spot the symptoms:

What is anaemia?

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Anaemia means that you have fewer red blood cells than normal or you have less-than-normal haemoglobin in each red blood cell. This causes a lack of oxygen throughout your bloodstream.

What are the causes of anaemia?

In the UK, the most common cause of anaemia is a lack of iron. This is called iron-deficiency anaemia and is often linked to a diet lacking in iron-rich foods like dark, leafy greens, products containing fortified cereals, meat and pulses.

Anaemia may also be caused by pregnancy, childhood growth spurts or heavy menstrual periods. Other causes may include rheumatoid arthritis, chronic kidney disease or a lack of certain vitamins such as folic acid and vitamin B12.

What are the symptoms?

Iron deficiency anaemia typically presents with symptoms indicating a reduced amount of oxygen in the body. These can include a lack of energy and shortness of breath, while less common symptoms include noticeable heart palpitations, pale skin and a ringing in the ears.

How is it treated?

If a blood test shows that your red blood cell count is low you’ll be prescribed iron tablets to replace the missing iron. Depending on the cause, other patients may be prescribed a course of vitamins or other more complex treatments.

What happens if anaemia is left untreated?

Lowered iron levels can affect the immune system, increasing your risk of illness and infection and leaving you vulnerable to complications that affect the heart or lungs.

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