anemia: low level of red blood cells in the blood prevalence: describing the number of cases in a population at any one time nutritional deficiency: lack of adequate nutrients in the diet iron: nutrient needed for red blood cell formation folate: one of the B vitamins, also called folic acid chronic: over a long period genetic: inherited or related to the genes thalassemia: inherited blood disease due to defect in the hemoglobin protein sideroblastosis: condition in which the blood contains an abnormally high number of sideroblasts, or red blood cells containing iron granules absorption: uptake by the digestive tract hemoglobin: the iron-containing molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen oxygen: O2, atmospheric gas required by all animals protein: complex molecule composed of amino acids that performs vital functions in the cell; necessary part of the diet nervous system: the brain, spinal cord, and nerves that extend throughout the body gastrointestinal: related to the stomach and intestines

Anemia affects more than 30 percent of the world's population, and it is one of the most important worldwide health problems. It has a significant prevalence in both developing and industrialized nations. Causes of anemia include nutritional deficiencies, particularly of iron, vitamin B12, and folate (folic acid); excess blood loss from menstruation or chronic illness and infection; ingestion of toxic substances, such as lead, ethanol, and other compounds; and genetic abnormalities such as thalassemia and sideroblastosis.

Anemia is caused by a deficiency in the intake and absorption elements required to make red blood cells. The condition is defined as one in which the blood is deficient in red blood cells, in hemoglobin, or in total volume. This results in blood that is incapable of meeting the oxygen needs of the body's tissues. Anemia is characterized by changes in the size and color of red blood cells. Red blood cells, or erythrocytes, are primarily responsible for oxygen transport from the lungs to the body's many cells. Hemoglobin is an oxygen-carrying protein in the red blood cell that incorporates iron into its structure. Therefore, iron is an essential building block of blood erythrocytes. When red blood cells are larger than normal, the anemia is termed macrocytic, and when they are smaller than normal, it is called mi-crocytic. Normal red cell color is termed normochromic, and if the red cells appear pale, the anemia is called hypochromic. When extensive lab testing is not available for diagnosis, the use of a portable colorimeter can be used to detect anemia.

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