“Doc, What’s Anemia?”

Physicians often assume (mistakenly) that when we begin taking to our patients about their anemia our patients understand all about this blood condition.

I found out about this ignorance of mine the hard way. I recently went into a monologue speaking to my patient about his anemia and all the work up that I was planning for him so that we could detect the source of his anemia. He kindly agreed to all the work up, but towards the end of out time together , he asked me “Doc, what is anemia?”. I was stumped!

Anemia is a drop in the Hemoglobin number in your blood. And hemoglobin is the substance carried inside the red blood cells pictured above. Why is hemoglobin important? This is because hemoglobin is like a magnet to oxygen. It picks up oxygen from your lungs and takes it to your various organs, so that the organs can breathe (yes organs need to breathe ). So what happens if your organs do not get enough oxygen? They suffocate . We call this Shock (e.g. shock liver, shock kidney etc)

“OK , but why are doctors so keen about anemia? Surely not everyone with anemia goes into a state of shock.”

This is absolutely right. The bleak scenario, I mentioned is seen only in extreme cases. Doctors are attentive to anemia for a different reason. Anemia often indicates an underlying problem in the body. For example anemia in an older man may indicate a case of colon cancer. Anemia is an older woman may indicate a case of cancer of the uterus. Anemia may indicate that you are low in Iron or Vitamin B12 or that your liver or thyroid may not be doing so great.

So the next time your doctor mentions anemia , work with your physician to find out what is causing it.

What condition has your doctor talked to you about, that you seriously had no clue what he was talking about?

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