Everything Seniors Need to Know About Anemia

Everything Seniors Need to Know About Anemia

Are you feeling run down all the time? Is it the kind of tired that never really goes away, no matter how much sleep you get? And maybe you’re dealing with other things too, like feeling weak and shaky for no apparent reason or feeling a bit of brain fog when you try to concentrate. You might even find that you’re irritable and have more than a few headaches lately.

And some might be really puzzled if things like ice or clay begin to look… appetizing?

These are some of the symptoms of anemia. This medical condition is quite common – according to the American Society of Hematology, it affects at least 3 million Americans. And those are only the ones who have been diagnosed; it’s safe to say there are millions more out there who have anemia and don’t know it yet.1

Anemia is the result of low hemoglobin in the blood. But how does that happen? What does it mean when it does? And what can you do to stop it?

What is Anemia?

Your blood contains a protein called hemoglobin. This protein is found in red blood cells. It attaches to the oxygen as you breathe in and carries that oxygen throughout your body. Those oxygenated cells reach every organ, system, and tissue in your body, feeding it the life-sustaining oxygen it needs to keep going. Hemoglobin has the added bonus of removing carbon dioxide from your lungs.

But when something goes wrong with your red blood cells, there isn’t enough hemoglobin to continue oxygenating your body effectively. Anemia develops when there aren’t enough red blood cells in your body or when those blood cells don’t work as they should.

There are many different types of anemia, but these are the most common:

·        Iron deficiency anemia: By far the most common type of anemia, this condition occurs when there is not enough iron in your blood. If your body can’t absorb iron, it can’t produce the red blood cells you need to carry oxygen from the lungs to the other organs of your body. This is often the result of a surgery or injury where you lost a lot of blood, but it can also happen to those who have issues with absorbing nutrients, such as those who have had gastric bypass surgery.

·        Pernicious anemia: Sometimes known as vitamin-deficiency anemia, this condition happens when your body can’t absorb vitamin B12 or folic acid. According to WebMD, long-term vitamin B12 deficiency can result in a host of problems beyond the symptoms of anemia, including depression, vision loss, trouble walking, cognitive impairment, memory loss, and more.2

·        Aplastic anemia: This is a very rare disorder of the bone marrow that can result from the immune system attacking the stem cells that your body creates in that bone marrow. The production of blood cells slows down dramatically. It might also be caused by radiation, exposure to toxic substances, or some viral infections.

·        Hemolytic anemia: This occurs when the body does produce plenty of red blood cells but they are broken up before they can do what they were meant to do. This might stem from autoimmune disorders, leaky heart valves, aneurysms somewhere in the body, certain infections, or congenital abnormalities. Some will be aware they have hemolytic anemia from childhood; others won’t develop it until much later in life.

There are other types of anemia, such as sickle cell anemia or thalassemia, which are diagnosed in one’s youth. Some types of anemia are prompted by kidney problems. And of course, anemia and chemotherapy seem to go hand-in-hand, so those who are on chemotherapy drugs might expect to deal with anemia, too. In this case, your oncologist will be very proactive in preventing anemia before it begins.

The Symptoms of Anemia

The symptoms of anemia can start out rather mild – mild enough that you might simply feel unwell and not realize that you have something more serious going on. But over time as the anemia gets worse, these symptoms become more pronounced.

·        Body aches

·        Feeling dizzy, faint, or weak

·        A rapid heartbeat

·        Chest pain

·        Cold hands and feet (no matter what you do to warm up)

·        Shortness of breath

·        A pounding sound or a “whooshing” in your ears

·        Regular headaches

·        Pale skin

·        Difficulties with sleep and concentration

·        Feeling irritable for no apparent reason

·        Brittle nails

·        A sore tongue

·        An unusual desire to eat ice or even dirt – a condition known as Pica

As you can see from this list, it can be very difficult to know you have anemia. Even if the symptoms are very pronounced, they are symptoms you might feel with other medical conditions. Diagnosis of low hemoglobin is through a simple blood test, which will quickly determine if you have anemia, but not necessarily what type of anemia it is.

Fatigue is one of the first things you might experience with low hemoglobin levels. Because that fatigue comes from the cells of your body not getting enough of what they need, no amount of sleep will seem to truly alleviate the tiredness you feel. As you might imagine, serious fatigue puts you at a much greater risk of falls and other accidents in the home and on the go.

Seniors should consider protecting themselves with an emergency button alarm. If you experience the bone-crushing fatigue of anemia and fall down, become confused, or experience some sort of accident as a result, simply press the button to get the help you need. By choosing medical alert technology with GPS, you can be certain that if you are far away from home, you can still reach an emergency monitoring center if you need assistance and they can pinpoint your location to send help right to you quickly.

What to Do About Anemia

Figuring out what to do about low hemoglobin levels starts with figuring out why they are low in the first place. Doctors know that anemia is more common among seniors aged 65 and older, those with certain conditions like cancer or celiac disease, and those with genetic blood disorders. Anemia might also be more common among vegetarians and vegans, as they don’t get as much iron and B12 from the foods they eat.

But there can be many other reasons, including:

·        Ongoing bleeding in your gastrointestinal tract, such as from an ulcer

·        Bleeding caused by the use of aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen

·        Significant blood loss after surgery

·        Conditions such as lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma, or chronic kidney disease

·        Recently donating blood or donating too often

·        Any major change in your body, especially one that requires extensive surgery, such as a hip replacement or an amputation

Figuring out how to treat anemia also depends upon just how bad the situation is. According to the Cleveland Clinic, a normal hemoglobin level for men is between 14 and 17.5 grams per deciliter (gm/dL) and for women the number is between 12.3 and 15.3 gm/dL. Anything below that is considered too low. Severely low hemoglobin levels are those that drop below 13.5 gm/dL for men and 12 gm/dL for women.3

Levels of 5.0 gm/dL or lower are dangerous and must be corrected immediately. Levels that low can quickly result in heart failure or death.

If you have anemia, treatment is an absolute must: this is not a condition that will get better on its own. And while you are waiting for that treatment to work, you might continue to experience the body aches, weakness, shortness of breath, and even chest pain that can be the hallmarks of anemia.

Those symptoms can be frightening – so easing your mind with an alert system for elderly adults makes a lot of sense. No matter what you are feeling, you can press the button on the medical alert device and connect with a trained professional who can help you. They will stay on the line with you until they know you are in good hands with someone who can help you.

The Top-Line Treatments for Anemia

The treatment your doctor chooses will depend upon your age, how severe the problem is, and what is causing it. Here are some of the options you might be asked to consider:

·        Iron supplements. These are taken orally, usually once a day. You might be able to get these over the counter.

·        Iron therapy. Severe iron-deficiency anemia might benefit from getting iron delivered directly into the blood. This is especially true for those with severe kidney disease or celiac disease.

·        Surgery to stop the bleeding. Your doctor might do an endoscopy or a colonoscopy to find the source of internal bleeding and then do surgery to stop it.

·        Blood transfusions. If your blood levels are far too low and need to come up right away, your doctor might give you transfusions of blood to correct the anemia.

·        Changes in diet. If you are dipping into low hemoglobin territory but the problem isn’t serious yet, changes in diet might be enough of a treatment. This can include loading up on iron-rich foods, including leafy greens, fish, beans, meat, tofu, and poultry. Citrus fruits can help you absorb iron.

·        Reviewing medications. Some medications can lead to problems with hemoglobin levels. For instance, calcium makes it harder to absorb iron, so you might edge into anemia if you are taking calcium supplements for an extended period of time. Always tell your doctor what medications you are on, including those used over-the-counter.

Many seniors worry about being unable to get help when they need it, especially if they live alone.

Enter the medical alert pendant that connects directly to a monitoring center, where trained professionals stand ready around the clock to answer the call. They are ready to get you the help you need, whether that means calling a neighbor or family member to come to your aid, or sending emergency services for a more serious situation.

When you have anemia or any other health condition, it’s always best to take added measures to stay safe and secure, no matter where you are. Alert1 wishes you health and happiness!