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17 November 2018

Why does anaemia make you feel tired and what can you do about it?

Severe fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of anaemia or iron deficiency. Learn how to recognise and combat this debilitating disorder.

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Anaemia occurs when there is a lack of red blood cells in your body. One of the most common symptoms of anaemia is fatigue, as your vital organs are not getting enough oxygen to function properly.

Iron-deficiency anaemia is the most common form of anaemia. Apart from the fact that your body is not producing enough oxygen-carrying red blood cells, your body is also working harder to produce energy.

Iron is vital for the production of adequate, healthy red blood cells. If you don't have enough iron, there won't be enough red blood cells to carry oxygen through your body.

The risks of constant fatigue

Fatigue is far more than simply feeling a little sleepy. Fatigue is defined as extreme exhaustion, and can have a far-reaching impact on your overall health if the cause isn’t found and addressed. In the case of undetected anaemia, your vital organs suffer oxygen loss, which can impair their function over time.

Anaemia can also lead to chronic fatigue syndrome, which puts your body under strain – it affects the functioning of your immune system, leads to sleep deprivation, headaches and low blood-pressure, and can impair your cognitive skills and productivity.

Fatigue is not the only key symptom of anaemia. People who suffer from anaemia also tend to experience dizziness and heart palpitations.

Combined with extreme fatigue, these symptoms can make a person feel irritable and severely impact concentration. This leads to the risk of hurting yourself, especially in those who need to stay alert on the job.

Could you be suffering from anaemia? Do our quiz to find out.

How to treat anaemia-related fatigue

While research shows that red blood cell transfusions may help with anaemia-related fatigue, it can be a costly procedure.

Other procedures include intravenous iron therapy, where iron is administered to replenish iron levels in the body, or even surgery to stop bleeding that may be responsible for anaemia. These procedures are often done in cases of severe anaemia.

But there are lifestyle measures that you can take to help fight anaemia-related fatigue. Less severe cases of anaemia can be treated by taking an iron supplement recommended by your doctor. Your doctor may also recommend the following:

  • Adapt your lifestyle to include a healthy, balanced diet and proper sleep in your daily routine.
  • Include iron-rich foods in your diet.
  • Increase your vitamin C intake to help your body absorb all the iron it can.
  • Avoid black tea as this can reduce iron absorption.
  • Reduce your intake of caffeine, sugar and alcohol to keep your energy levels up.
  • Avoid dehydration as this can add to your fatigue. Drink plenty of water during the day.
  • Try incorporating light exercise in your day, as there is evidence that regular exercise can help combat fatigue. Aerobic exercise can even help regenerate red blood cells. 
  • Always monitor your condition and make sure that any additional health conditions that you may have are also addressed. 
  • Go for regular checkups to check your level of red blood cells.
  • Tell your doctor about any other symptoms, such as shortness of breath, nausea or a rapid heartbeat.

Image credit: iStock

 
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