(12/28/11) – Blood is the "fluid of life," delivering oxygen and nutrients to tissues with every heartbeat. Many are aware of the importance of blood, but few realize how critical it is that we have normal levels of blood in the circulation in order to maintain good health and have excellent quality of life. "If your doctor has ever taken a sample of your blood to run "tests," one of those tests was to determine the hemoglobin level in your blood," said Dr. Nicholas Wallace, Dillon Internal Medicine. "Hemoglobin is an iron-rich molecule that binds to red blood cells and carries oxygen to the organs and tissue. It is vital in promoting adequate production of red blood cells. If your hemoglobin level is low, less oxygen is delivered to your organs and tissues. Depending on the result of your hemoglobin reading, you may be anemic. The normal range for a female is 12-16 g/dL and the normal range for a male is 14-18 g/dL."
Anemia, or the problem of having too few red blood cells, has been called the "silent epidemic" because it is much more common than most people know, and its symptoms can be so subtle initially. "Fatigue, lack of energy, and muscle weakness are all hallmarks of anemia," said Dr. Wallace, "but these are usually chalked up to lives that have become much to busy. Because many types of anemia can be effectively treated with iron supplements and other inexpensive medications, recognizing anemia and treating it can be simple and have a real impact upon the overall health of patients in the region."
Women and seniors are most frequently affected by anemia: women because of the monthly loss of blood with their cycles and the high demands of pregnancy, and seniors because of poor nutrition and chronic diseases. Anemia is seen in up to one of every three pregnant women. Men are significantly affected as well, with anemia rates rising with each decade of life.
"Anemia in pregnancy is definitely on our radar," says Dr. Rebecca Craig, McLeod OB/GYN Dillon. "We know that a pregnant woman needs 30 percent more blood in order to supply the developing baby in the uterus, and anemia in the mother can lead to growth restriction." The evidence is that the majority of women will require iron and folate supplements throughout pregnancy to keep up with this higher production of blood.
Patients that are scheduled for major surgery are another group of particular interest and attention. "Patients that are anemic before surgery will be even more anemic after surgery even with precise surgical techniques," according to Dr. Mamdouh Mijalli, McLeod General Surgery Dillon. "If it was just the blood count number that changed we would be less worried, but we have found that wound healing can be delayed in severely anemic patients. Anemia also interferes with optimal rehabilitation of the patient because of the poor exercise tolerance that is a hallmark of a low blood count." Dr. Mijalli added, "The best practice requires a close coordination of the patient’s care before surgery, precise surgical technique, and close monitoring after surgery."
Dr. Wallace added, "Having anemia co-exist with diabetes, heart failure, kidney disease—really any chronic disease—can lower survival and quality of life with these conditions. For those blessed with good health, a normal blood count will insure that we have the "get up and go" for our dawn-to-dusk schedules. Ask your doctor for a screening blood test."