Conditions affecting the red blood cells can result in decreased oxygen supply to the tissues and organs of the body. Red blood cells contain a protein known as hemoglobin, which carries oxygen molecules, and conditions affecting this protein also lead to anemia.
These pathological processes may lead to poorly functioning systems which may be life-threatening to the affected individual.
Signs and symptoms of anemia
Disorders of the red blood cells and/or hemoglobin, resulting in decreased oxygen supply to the rest of the body, is called anemia.
Anemia may be caused by different conditions but usually presents clinically in the same way, with the addition of a couple of signs and symptoms depending on these causes.
The general signs and symptoms of anemia include the following:
·Paleness of the skin – this occurs due to a decreased amount of red blood cells, which gives the pinkish/red appearance of human skin.
·Fatigue – due to decreased oxygen supply to the muscles, the body starts to tire easily.
·Shortness of breath – as a result of the decreased oxygen supply, the lungs try to get more oxygen in the body by causing one to breathe harder and faster.
·Dizziness – due to decreased oxygen supply to the brain.
In severe cases, anemia symptoms may also include the following:
·Heart palpitations – this occurs because, like the lungs, the heart also has to work harder to pump blood throughout the body so that oxygen can be delivered to the organs and tissues.
·Loss of consciousness/coma – if the brain is not getting the minimal amount of oxygen to function properly, then this sign can occur.
Types of anemia
There are many causes of anemia, with issues ranging from pathologies affecting hemoglobin to conditions of the red blood cells.
The most common cause of anemia is an iron deficiency, as this results in decreased production of hemoglobin which leads to the decreased oxygen-carrying capacity of the body.
Another cause of anemia is autoimmune haemolytic anemia, which is a disorder affecting the red blood cells directly. An autoimmune process occurs, where proteins known as antibodies are formed, and they attack and destroy the normal red blood cells. Doctors and researchers are not entirely sure why this process occurs, but there are certain factors that have been identified as causes of the condition.
Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia
Autoimmune haemolytic anemia is a rare cause of anemia that affects, at most, 3 out of every 100,000 people every year. In half of the cases, the cause of the condition is thought to be idiopathic, which means that no direct primary cause resulting in the condition was determined.
There are different subtypes of the disease, with each having their own secondary causes and treatment protocols. These include cold and warm-type autoimmune haemolytic anemia and they have the following causes:
·Cold-type autoimmune haemolytic anemia is commonly caused by lymphoproliferative conditions such as lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and infections such as viral pneumonia and infectious mononucleosis.
·Warm-type autoimmune haemolytic anemia is caused by autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus, and the mentioned lymphoproliferative conditions.
The signs and symptoms of autoimmune haemolytic anemia include the ones which have already been mentioned. Other signs, that can make clinicians think towards an autoimmune process being responsible for the anemia, include jaundice (yellow discoloration) of the skin and white of the eyes, and the production of dark urine. The reason for this is because when the red blood cells rupture, they release their content which includes bilirubin. This protein is then what gives the skin and urine the characteristic color change.
There is no cure for autoimmune haemolytic anemia, but the condition can be effectively managed depending on the cause of the disorder.
The warm subtype will be managed by attempting to reduce the autoimmune process with drugs such as steroids and other immune suppressing medications, whereas the cold subtype is managed by avoiding cold temperatures.