Understanding Anemia -- Diagnosis and Treatment
What Are the Treatments for Anemia? continued...
Anemia Caused by Chronic Disease
It is best to treat the underlying condition whenever possible. Anemia caused by chronic kidney disease or following chemotherapy can be treated with an injection of recombinant human erythropoietin (Procrit, Epogen, Aranesp). Erythropoietin is a hormone that stimulates the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow.
Anemia Caused by Increased Red Blood Cell Destruction
The treatment of hemolytic anemia will be tailored to the underlying cause. Mild cases of hemolytic anemia may not require any treatment at all. If an offending environmental agent can be identified -- a chemical, for example -- exposure to this agent should stop immediately. People with hemolytic anemia may need surgery to replace faulty heart valves, remove a tumor, or repair abnormal blood vessels.
Supportive treatment -- like intravenous fluids and pain medication -- will often be given. A blood transfusion may be necessary in some cases. Steroids can halt the body's immune attack on its own red blood cells. Certain damaging factors can be removed from the blood by a treatment called plasmapheresis.
If hemolytic anemia persists despite treatment, your doctor may recommend splenectomy --surgical removal of the spleen -- as a last resort. Most people can lead a normal life without their spleen.
Longstanding hemolytic anemia can cause gallstones to develop from the by-products of red blood cell destruction. Gallbladder surgery may be necessary for symptomatic gallstones. A type of hemolytic anemia that occurs more commonly in children is associated with kidney damage, and dialysis may be necessary. In extremely rare cases, bone marrow transplantation may be the only solution for certain types of hemolytic anemia.
Sickle Cell Anemia
Occasionally, children with sickle cell disease who have an appropriate donor may be cured by a bone marrow transplant. Alternatively, a drug called hydroxyurea appears to stimulate the formation of an alternate form of hemoglobin that isn't susceptible to the sickling, and may be used to reduce the frequency of bone pain. The bone pain can usually be eased with pain medications and the anemia may require transfusions.
Lead poisoning is treated by discontinuing exposure to lead and administering a drug that binds and draws lead out of the body.
How Can I Prevent Anemia?
You can help prevent iron-deficiency anemia by eating a well-balanced diet that includes good sources of iron, vitamin B12, and folate. Steps to take include the following:
- If you are a vegetarian or vegan, talk to your doctor or a nutritionist about your diet and any possible need for supplements.
- Ask your doctor or nutritionist if you should take vitamin C. Vitamin C makes the stomach more acidic and can improve the absorption of iron in your diet.
- Decrease your consumption of caffeinated products and tea. These substances can decrease iron absorption. Other offenders include the preservative EDTA, fiber, large amounts of calcium, and the phytates found in some vegetables.
- Select iron-fortified cereals and breads.
- Carefully follow safety guidelines if your occupation involves work with lead-containing materials such as batteries, petroleum, and paint.
- Ask your doctor or local public health authorities about getting your dishes and other eating utensils tested for lead.