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|Classification and external resources|
Human blood from a case of iron-deficiency anemia
|eMedicine||med/132 emerg/808 emerg/734|
|Classification and external resources|
Human blood from a case of iron-deficiency anemia
|eMedicine||med/132 emerg/808 emerg/734|
Anemia (//; also spelled anaemia and anæmia; from Ancient Greek: ἀναιμία anaimia, meaning lack of blood, from ἀν- an-, "not" + αἷμα haima, "blood") is a decrease in number of red blood cells (RBCs) or less than the normal quantity of hemoglobin in the blood. However, it can include decreased oxygen-binding ability of each hemoglobin molecule due to deformity or lack in numerical development as in some other types of hemoglobin deficiency. Because hemoglobin (found inside RBCs) normally carries oxygen from the lungs to the capillaries, anemia leads to hypoxia (lack of oxygen) in organs. Since all human cells depend on oxygen for survival, varying degrees of anemia can have a wide range of clinical consequences.
Anemia is the most common disorder of the blood. The several kinds of anemia are produced by a variety of underlying causes. It can be classified in a variety of ways, based on the morphology of RBCs, underlying etiologic mechanisms, and discernible clinical spectra, to mention a few. The three main classes include excessive blood loss (acutely such as a hemorrhage or chronically through low-volume loss), excessive blood cell destruction (hemolysis) or deficient red blood cell production (ineffective hematopoiesis).
Of the two major approaches to diagnosis, the "kinetic" approach involves evaluating production, destruction and loss, and the "morphologic" approach groups anemia by red blood cell size. The morphologic approach uses a quickly available and low-cost lab test as its starting point (the MCV). On the other hand, focusing early on the question of production may allow the clinician to expose cases more rapidly where multiple causes of anemia coexist.
Anemia goes undetermined in many people, and symptoms can be minor or vague. The signs and symptoms can be related to the underlying cause or the anemia itself.
Most commonly, people with anemia report feelings of weakness, or fatigue, general malaise, and sometimes poor concentration. They may also report dyspnea (shortness of breath) on exertion. In very severe anemia, the body may compensate for the lack of oxygen-carrying capability of the blood by increasing cardiac output. The patient may have symptoms related to this, such as palpitations, angina (if pre-existing heart disease is present), intermittent claudication of the legs, and symptoms of heart failure.
On examination, the signs exhibited may include pallor (pale skin, mucosal linings and nail beds), but this is not a reliable sign. There may be signs of specific causes of anemia, e.g., koilonychia (in iron deficiency), jaundice (when anemia results from abnormal break down of red blood cells — in hemolytic anemia), bone deformities (found in thalassemia major) or leg ulcers (seen in sickle-cell disease).
In severe anemia, there may be signs of a hyperdynamic circulation: tachycardia (a fast heart rate), bounding pulse, flow murmurs, and cardiac ventricular hypertrophy (enlargement). There may be signs of heart failure.
Chronic anemia may result in behavioral disturbances in children as a direct result of impaired neurological development in infants, and reduced scholastic performance in children of school age. Restless legs syndrome is more common in those with iron-deficiency anemia.
Anemia is typically diagnosed on a complete blood count. Apart from reporting the number of red blood cells and the hemoglobin level, the automatic counters also measure the size of the red blood cells by flow cytometry, which is an important tool in distinguishing between the causes of anemia. Examination of a stained blood smear using a microscope can also be helpful, and it is sometimes a necessity in regions of the world where automated analysis is less accessible.
In modern counters, four parameters (RBC count, hemoglobin concentration, MCV and RDW) are measured, allowing others (hematocrit, MCH and MCHC) to be calculated, and compared to values adjusted for age and sex. Some counters estimate hematocrit from direct measurements.
|Age or gender group||Hb threshold (g/dl)||Hb threshold (mmol/l)|
|Children (0.5–5.0 yrs)||11.0||6.8|
|Children (5–12 yrs)||11.5||7.1|
|Teens (12–15 yrs)||12.0||7.4|
|Women, non-pregnant (>15yrs)||12.0||7.4|
Reticulocyte counts, and the "kinetic" approach to anemia, have become more common than in the past in the large medical centers of the United States and some other wealthy nations, in part because some automatic counters now have the capacity to include reticulocyte counts. A reticulocyte count is a quantitative measure of the bone marrow's production of new red blood cells. The reticulocyte production index is a calculation of the ratio between the level of anemia and the extent to which the reticulocyte count has risen in response. If the degree of anemia is significant, even a "normal" reticulocyte count actually may reflect an inadequate response.
If an automated count is not available, a reticulocyte count can be done manually following special staining of the blood film. In manual examination, activity of the bone marrow can also be gauged qualitatively by subtle changes in the numbers and the morphology of young RBCs by examination under a microscope. Newly formed RBCs are usually slightly larger than older RBCs and show polychromasia. Even where the source of blood loss is obvious, evaluation of erythropoiesis can help assess whether the bone marrow will be able to compensate for the loss, and at what rate.
When the cause is not obvious, clinicians use other tests: ESR, ferritin, serum iron, transferrin, RBC folate level, serum vitamin B12, hemoglobin electrophoresis, renal function tests (e.g. serum creatinine).
When the diagnosis remains difficult, a bone marrow examination allows direct examination of the precursors to red cells.
In the morphological approach, anemia is classified by the size of red blood cells; this is either done automatically or on microscopic examination of a peripheral blood smear. The size is reflected in the mean corpuscular volume (MCV). If the cells are smaller than normal (under 80 fl), the anemia is said to be microcytic; if they are normal size (80–100 fl), normocytic; and if they are larger than normal (over 100 fl), the anemia is classified as macrocytic. This scheme quickly exposes some of the most common causes of anemia; for instance, a microcytic anemia is often the result of iron deficiency. In clinical workup, the MCV will be one of the first pieces of information available, so even among clinicians who consider the "kinetic" approach more useful philosophically, morphology will remain an important element of classification and diagnosis.
The "kinetic" approach to anemia yields arguably the most clinically relevant classification of anemia. This classification depends on evaluation of several hematological parameters, particularly the blood reticulocyte (precursor of mature RBCs) count. This then yields the classification of defects by decreased RBC production versus increased RBC destruction and/or loss. Clinical signs of loss or destruction include abnormal peripheral blood smear with signs of hemolysis; elevated LDH suggesting cell destruction; or clinical signs of bleeding, such as guaiac-positive stool, radiographic findings, or frank bleeding.
The following is a simplified schematic of this approach:
|Reticulocyte production index shows inadequate production response to anemia.||Reticulocyte production index shows appropriate response to anemia = ongoing hemolysis or blood loss without RBC production problem.|
|No clinical findings consistent with hemolysis or blood loss: pure disorder of production.||Clinical findings and abnormal MCV: hemolysis or loss and chronic disorder of production*.||Clinical findings and normal MCV= acute hemolysis or loss without adequate time for bone marrow production to compensate**.|
|Macrocytic anemia (MCV>100)||Normocytic anemia (80<MCV<100)||Microcytic anemia (MCV<80)|
* For instance, sickle cell anemia with superimposed iron deficiency; chronic gastric bleeding with B12 and folate deficiency; and other instances of anemia with more than one cause.
** Confirm by repeating reticulocyte count: ongoing combination of low reticulocyte production index, normal MCV and hemolysis or loss may be seen in bone marrow failure or anemia of chronic disease, with superimposed or related hemolysis or blood loss.
Here is a schematic representation of how to consider anemia with MCV as the starting point:
|Macrocytic anemia (MCV>100)||Normocytic anemia (MCV 80–100)||Microcytic anemia (MCV<80)|
|High reticulocyte count||Low reticulocyte count|
Microcytic anemia is primarily a result of hemoglobin synthesis failure/insufficiency, which could be caused by several etiologies:
Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia overall and it has many causes. RBCs often appear hypochromic (paler than usual) and microcytic (smaller than usual) when viewed with a microscope.
Macrocytic anemia can be further divided into "megaloblastic anemia" or "nonmegaloblastic macrocytic anemia". The cause of megaloblastic anemia is primarily a failure of DNA synthesis with preserved RNA synthesis, which results in restricted cell division of the progenitor cells. The megaloblastic anemias often present with neutrophil hypersegmentation (six to 10 lobes). The nonmegaloblastic macrocytic anemias have different etiologies (i.e. unimpaired DNA globin synthesis,) which occur, for example, in alcoholism.
In addition to the nonspecific symptoms of anemia, specific features of vitamin B12 deficiency include peripheral neuropathy and subacute combined degeneration of the cord with resulting balance difficulties from posterior column spinal cord pathology. Other features may include a smooth, red tongue and glossitis.
The treatment for vitamin B12-deficient anemia was first devised by William Murphy, who bled dogs to make them anemic, and then fed them various substances to see what (if anything) would make them healthy again. He discovered that ingesting large amounts of liver seemed to cure the disease. George Minot and George Whipple then set about to isolate the curative substance chemically and ultimately were able to isolate the vitamin B12 from the liver. All three shared the 1934 Nobel Prize in Medicine.
Normocytic anemia occurs when the overall hemoglobin levels are decreased, but the red blood cell size (mean corpuscular volume) remains normal. Causes include:
A dimorphic appearance on a peripheral blood smear occurs when there are two simultaneous populations of red blood cells, typically of different size and hemoglobin content (this last feature affecting the color of the red blood cell on a stained peripheral blood smear). For example, a person recently transfused for iron deficiency would have small, pale, iron deficient red blood cells (RBCs) and the donor RBCs of normal size and color. Similarly, a person transfused for severe folate or vitamin B12 deficiency would have two cell populations, but, in this case, the patient's RBCs would be larger and paler than the donor's RBCs. A person with sideroblastic anemia (a defect in heme synthesis, commonly caused by alcoholism, but also drugs/toxins, nutritional deficiencies, a few acquired and rare congenital diseases) can have a dimorphic smear from the sideroblastic anemia alone. Evidence for multiple causes appears with an elevated RBC distribution width (RDW), indicating a wider-than-normal range of red cell sizes, also seen in common nutritional anemia.
Heinz bodies form in the cytoplasm of RBCs and appear as small dark dots under the microscope. Heinz body anemia has many causes, and some forms can be drug-induced. It is triggered in cats by eating onions or acetaminophen (paracetamol). It can be triggered in dogs by ingesting onions or zinc, and in horses by ingesting dry red maple leaves.
Hyperanemia is a severe form of anemia, in which the hematocrit is below 10%.
Broadly, causes of anemia may be classified as impaired red blood cell (RBC) production, increased RBC destruction (hemolytic anemias), blood loss and fluid overload (hypervolemia). Several of these may interplay to cause anemia eventually. Indeed, the most common cause of anemia is blood loss, but this usually does not cause any lasting symptoms unless a relatively impaired RBC production develops, in turn most commonly by iron deficiency. (See Iron deficiency anemia)
Fluid overload (hypervolemia) causes decreased hemoglobin concentration and apparent anemia:
Treatments for anemia depend on severity and cause.
Iron deficiency from nutritional causes is rare in men and postmenopausal women. The diagnosis of iron deficiency mandates a search for potential sources of loss, such as gastrointestinal bleeding from ulcers or colon cancer. Mild to moderate iron-deficiency anemia is treated by oral iron supplementation with ferrous sulfate, ferrous fumarate, or ferrous gluconate. When taking iron supplements, stomach upset and/or darkening of the feces are commonly experienced. The stomach upset can be alleviated by taking the iron with food; however, this decreases the amount of iron absorbed. Vitamin C aids in the body's ability to absorb iron, so taking oral iron supplements with orange juice is of benefit.
In cases where oral iron has either proven ineffective, would be too slow (for example, pre-operatively) or where absorption is impeded (for example in cases of inflammation), parenteral iron can be used. The body can absorb up to 6 mg iron daily from the gastrointestinal tract. In many cases the patient has a deficit of over 1,000 mg of iron which would require several months to replace. This can be given concurrently with erythropoietin to ensure sufficient iron for increased rates of erythropoiesis.
Doctors attempt to avoid blood transfusion in general, since multiple lines of evidence point to increased adverse patient clinical outcomes with more intensive transfusion strategies. The physiological principle that reduction of oxygen delivery associated with anemia leads to adverse clinical outcomes is balanced by the finding that transfusion does not necessarily mitigate these adverse clinical outcomes. Blood does have risks associated, such as disease transmission and host incompatibility, even in cases where crossmatching was correctly undertaken. Each unit of blood is only equivalent to 200–250 mg iron, thus requiring several units per patient to replete iron stores. Increasingly, physicians are using parenteral iron both to conserve a finite resource, for improved patient outcomes but also to reduce costs to the hospital.
Transfusion of the stable but anemic hospitalized patient has been the subject of numerous clinical trials.
Four randomized, controlled clinical trials have been conducted to evaluate aggressive versus conservative transfusion strategies in critically ill patients. All four of these studies failed to find a benefit with more aggressive transfusion strategies.
Treatment of exceptional blood loss (anemia) is recognized as an indication for hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) by the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society. The use of HBO is indicated when oxygen delivery to tissue is not sufficient in patients who cannot be given blood transfusions for medical or religious reasons. HBO may be used for medical reasons when threat of blood product incompatibility or concern for transmissible disease are factors. The beliefs of some religions (ex: Jehovah's Witnesses) may require they use the HBO method.
The motive for the administration of an erythropoiesis-stimulating agent (ESA) is to maintain hemoglobin at the lowest level that both minimizes transfusions and best meets individual patient needs. Medical speciality professional organizations do not recommend the use of ESAs to chronic kidney disease patients who do not have hemoglobin levels greater than 10 g/dL and do not have anemia symptoms.