Anemia is the name for the condition when the body doesn't have enough red blood cells, which means there isn't enough oxygen getting out to the tissues. There are many causes of anemia, as PubMed Health indicates by its very long list. Red blood cells have a normal life span of 3 to 4 months, and then they are broken down by the spleen and removed from the body to make way for the newer ones. Sometimes, though, the body just isn't producing them as fast as they're being broken down, or they're being broken down too soon.
Iron is an important mineral for the blood, and it is often cited as a treatment of anemia. Iron is a part of hemoglobin, the protein that binds oxygen in red blood cells. So a lack of iron means a lack of hemoglobin, and a lack of hemoglobin means a lack of red blood cells.
But also, there are proteins produced by the body that stimulate red blood cell creation in the bone marrow (that's where red blood cells are made!). Some treatments for anemia, like the brand Procrit, but there are side effects to treatment - as the number of cells in the blood is increased, the blood volume increases, which could increase blood pressure. Clotting is also an issue.
Procrit is the brand name for epoetin alfa, an injectable solution that mimics erythropoietin and stimulates the bone marrow to produce red blood cells, a process called erythropoiesis. Patients who undergo chemotherapy or use certain antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV infection may require such treatment, as well as some who may be treated prophylactically in preparation for blood loss during surgery. However, triggering blood cell development can cause increases in hemoglobin, which should be monitored by the prescribing doctor.
Use of the drug to treat anemia may correct menstruation issues brought about by the condition and increase the odds of becoming pregnant. Procrit may result in increased blood pressure, as well as the following common side effects: headache, muscle or joint aches and soreness, sleeping problems, burning or itching of the extremities, pain or inflammation at the injection site, and gastrointestinal issues. Gastrointestinal symptoms include constipation, stomach pain, diarrhea, indigestion, nausea, and vomiting. A doctor should be notified if the symptoms worsen or do not go away.
The use of epoetin alfa has been associated with an increased risk of blood clots, particularly in the legs, lungs, and brain. Pain, tenderness, swelling, redness, and/or warmth in the legs or a cool feeling and numbness in the arm or leg should be seen immediately by a doctor. Chest pain, coughing up blood, or sudden shifts in the senses (sudden vision issues) or cognition (sudden confusion, slurred speech, seizures, trouble understanding language, lack of coordination) are also signs of a medical emergency.
A doctor should be notified if any severe adverse effects are experienced. A spreading rash, hives, or swelling may indicate an allergic reaction. Some other reported adverse effects include signs of infection, such as fever, chills, sore throat, or cough, as well as hoarseness, wheezing and trouble breathing, lack of energy, and feeling cold all the time.
Doctors may avoid use of the drug in individuals with high blood pressure, and individuals with bleeding or clotting disorders should be wary of use as well. The effects of increasing blood volume by triggering erythropoiesis may adversely affect individuals who already have these issues. Patients on hemodialysis may experience blood clots in the vascular access. The FDA has also issued a warning that some patients with certain cancers have experienced increased tumor growth and an increased risk of death.
The reason for the anemia would determine what treatment - whether it be with iron supplementation or synthetic erythropoietin, or any other stimulant of red blood cell creation or prevented destruction - will depend on its cause.
What about white blood cells? Read about that tomorrow.