Reduction or lack of sufficient amount of haemoglobin (oxygen carrying molecule in blood) is a very common problem in India. According to an estimate more than 50 per cent of women in our country suffer from this blood disorder. As symptoms are usually slow to progress, patients are unaware of it for a long time, till it is difficult for them to carry out their daily routine. Common symptoms include:

  • Weakness
  • Fatigability
  • Headache
  • Skin pallor
  • Malaise , dizziness
  • Fast heart rate or palpitations
  • Cold peripheries

Most frequent reason for this is inadequate production, bleeding or increased destruction of red blood cells. Inadequate production due to nutritional deficiency, especially iron is the most common cause of anaemia in India.

As long term anaemia can damage heart, brain or other organs, it is important to meet a specialist doctor as soon as you witness any of the above symptoms and undergo treatment. In most cases, anaemia can be diagnosed by a simple test (CBC) which is available in all labs and hospitals.

It is important not to take any drop in haemoglobin lightly, because it may indicate some serious underlying disease like kidney disorders, cancers, severe internal blood loss etc. Especially following conditions need to be watched for.

  • Anaemia developing in a short span of time
  • Bleeding from any part of the body
  • Lymph nodes or swelling in any part of the body
  • Sudden loss of weight or appetite
  • Long standing fever

Pregnant women should intake iron supplement and be aware of these symptoms, because low haemoglobin may affect the health of both mother and baby. Children born to anaemic mothers can have developmental abnormalities or can be malnourished.

Due to its harsh effects on children and females of reproductive age group, government of India launched Anaemia Mukt Bharat programme for its prevention. It has a target to reduce the incidences of anaemia in children and females by 20 per cent in six years. A detailed action plan is in place to ensure coordination between various government agencies to achieve the target laid down in this programme.

Along with such programmes, it is extremely important for us to know how to prevent this problem. We must know that daily iron requirement in adult is about 18 mg, which can go up to 27 mg during pregnancy and lactation. Some iron rich food items like spinach, broccoli, beetroot, potato, watermelon, apple, pomegranate, chicken, eggs, brown rice, oats, nuts etc can reduce the chances of anaemia. Women with severe iron deficiency can increase their haemoglobin levels by 2 grams in a month just by increasing daily intake of iron to 60- 120mg of elemental iron.

The writer is senior consultant, clinical haematologist, Action Cancer Hospital