Anaemia in teenagers

Anaemic girl with representation of red blood cells

What is Anaemia?

Anaemia, also known as “lack of blood”, is a condition in which there is a deficiency of red blood cells or haemoglobin resulting in pallor and weariness. The oxygen we breathe in doesn’t stop in our lungs. It’s needed throughout our bodies to fuel the brain and all other organs and tissues. Oxygen travels to these organs through the bloodstream specifically in the red blood cells. Red blood cells contain a protein that holds onto oxygen known as haemoglobin. To make enough of this protein, the body needs to have plenty of iron.

With demands and other activities at school, many teenagers go through tiredness and fatigue. Besides just a heavy academic schedule, another reason why they feel so exhausted is anaemia.

Causes of Anemia

1. Iron restricted diet: Iron-deficiency anaemia or lack of iron is the main cause of anaemia. There are a number of reasons why this can happen such as:
Poor absorption of iron: This is seen if there are any gut-related issues.
Heavy menstrual flow: The amount of iron that you eat may not be enough to replace the amount that you lose with the bleeding each month.
Bleeding from the gut (intestines): This happens unknowingly such as passing blood in your stool.
Childhood growth spurts: The amount of iron eaten during early childhood is not sufficient enough.
2. Lack of certain vitamins such as folic acid, vitamin B12, and Thalassaemia.

Signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of anaemia happen gradually over a period of time as the body is slowly depleting iron resources in the body rather than drastically.

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Tiredness or fatigue, especially after physical activities leading to headaches.
  • Skin turns pale in colour.
  • Irritation over trivial matters.
  • Increased heartbeat or a heart murmur.
  • A decrease in appetite.

Types of anaemia

1. Iron Deficiency Anaemia: This is the most common type in which there is chronic blood loss caused by excessive menstruation. Increased demand for iron and rapid growth spurts in adolescents can also cause this type of anaemia. Tiredness, weakness, shortness of breath and sometimes, a fast heartbeat, are characteristic features of this type of iron deficiency. Treatment includes dietary changes and supplements. Severe iron deficiency may require treatment in the hospital, blood transfusions and iron injections.
2. Aplastic Anaemia: A rare but serious condition, this is a blood disorder in which the bone marrow doesn’t make enough new blood cells, resulting in a number of health problems such as arrhythmias, an enlarged heart, heart failure, infections and bleeding. The characteristic features include coldness in hands and feet, pale skin and also chest pain.
3. Haemolytic Anaemia: Here, the red blood cells are destroyed and removed from the blood stream before their normal life span is up. This type of anaemia can be both inherited and also acquired. Symptoms include jaundice, pain in the upper abdomen, leg ulcers and a severe reaction to blood transfusion.

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Dhrishti Bijlani
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Dhrishti Bijlani

Armed with a Master’s in Clinical Nutrition & Dietetics, Dhrishti Bijlani's goal is to make it easier for everyone to eat right and get more habituated to a healthy lifestyle.