Don’t shrug off frequent fainting, fatigue and weariness. What you think is because of your stressful work schedule could actually be signs of anaemia.
Until her sudden black out, Daphne* was a healthy 22-year-old with no previous health problems. “That morning I was getting ready to go out with my mom for a shopping spree when I suddenly blacked out,” recalls the events executive.
When she came to, she brushed aside her mother’s concerns. “It had been a hectic few days at work as we had just managed a major event. I hadn’t slept or eaten well so I thought it was just a case of fatigue. I told Mum I’d be fine after some rest.”
Except that she wasn’t. Daphne’s condition didn’t improve, and she became increasingly weaker until she could barely stand on her feet.
“Mum rushed me to the nearest clinic where the doctor took one look at me and told Mum to send me to a hospital immediately. I was half conscious upon arrival and had to be taken in a wheelchair to the emergency room for treatment. I had a high fever, which was made worse by anaemia, the condition I didn’t realise I was suffering from until then.”
What’s the big deal?
According to the NHS, anaemia is “a condition where a lack of iron in the body leads to a reduction in the number of red blood cells.” Because red blood cells transport oxygen around the body, a low red blood cell count results in less oxygen is delivered to every tissue in the body and symptoms like fatigue and fainting spells set in.
As in Daphne’s case, anaemia can strike without warning. “If anaemia is mild, it may not cause any symptoms,” says eMedicineHealth.com. “If anaemia is slowly ongoing (chronic), the body may adapt and compensate for the change; in this case there may not be any symptoms until the condition becomes severe.”
Common symptoms include fatigue, loss of energy, depression, an unusually rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, headaches, difficulty concentrating, dizziness, pale skin, brittle nails, leg cramps, and insomnia.
Although most cases are not life-threatening, anaemia can be disruptive to daily living and work. “I was anaemic when I was in secondary school and always too tired to do anything. I skipped sports and even had to sit out physical education classes at times,” share Soo Chin.
On a more serious level, anaemia can increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Because the heart has to work harder to carry oxygen throughout the body, it has to beat faster, which can increase blood pressure and hurt heart muscles over time.
Anaemia can also affect treatment of other health conditions. For example, anaemics are more likely to need blood transfusions before surgery.
Who’s at risk?
Anaemia is actually one of the most common blood conditions, especially among women. Of the over 400 types of anaemia, the most common is iron deficiency anaemia. 20% of women and 50% of pregnant women suffer from this, and children from nine to 24 months and adolescents are also likely to develop it.
This form of anaemia can either be caused by a lack of iron, Vitamin B12 and/or folate in the diet or improper or insufficient absorption of these vitamins and minerals. Blood loss, even a small amount over time can also cause iron deficiency. Women who experience heavy periods and do not have sufficient iron intake are at risk of developing anaemia, whether temporary or long-term.
Certain types of medication can also interfere with the body’s ability to make enough red blood cells, according to leading healthcare information technology supplier Cerner. Medications for epilepsy, diabetes and certain antibiotics as well as chemotherapy and radiation are among those that can affect red blood cell production.
In less common cases, anaemia can be an inherited condition. For example, sickle cell anaemia – anaemia caused by irregularly shaped red blood cells – is hereditary.
Anaemia is easily treated and curable, so it makes sense to get to the bottom of things. If you suspect you have anaemia, consult a medical professional to get a diagnosis and the right treatment. Why suffer the unnecessary tiredness, weakness, headaches and dizziness if you don’t have to?
From the print edition. Original text by Stephanie See and Elaine Tan. *Names changed for privacy reasons.