Anaemia overview and treatment

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1. Introduction

Anaemia is a syndrome characterised by a lack of healthy red blood cells or haemoglobin deficiency in the red blood cells, resulting in inadequate oxygen supply to the tissues. The condition can be temporary, long-term or chronic, and of mild to severe intensity.

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There are many forms and causes of anaemia. Normal blood consists of three types of blood cells: white blood cells (leucocytes), platelets and red blood cells (erythrocytes). The first generation of erythrocyte precursors in the developing foetus are produced in the yolk sac. They are carried to the developing liver by the blood where they form mature red blood cells that are required to meet the metabolic needs of the foetus. Until the 18th week of gestation, erythrocytes are produced only by liver after which the production shifts to the spleen and the bone marrow. The life of a red blood cell is about 127 days or 4 months (Shemin and Rittenberg, 1946; Kohgo et al., 2008). The main causes of anaemia are blood loss, production of too few red blood cells by the bone marrow or a rapid destruction of cells.

          Haemoglobin, a protein, present in the red blood cells is involved in the transport of oxygen from the lungs to all the other organs and tissues of the body. Iron is an important constituent of the haemoglobin protein structure which is intimately involved in the transport of oxygen. Anaemia is generally defined as a lower than normal haemoglobin concentration. The normal blood haemoglobin concentration is dependent on age and sex, and, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Expert Committee Report, anaemia results when the blood concentration of haemoglobin falls below 130 g/L in men or 120 g/L in non-pregnant women (WHO, 1968). However, the reference range of haemoglobin concentration in blood could vary depending on the ethnicity, age, sex, environmental conditions and food habits of the population analysed. According to Beutler and Warren (2006), more reasonable benchmarks for anaemia are 137 g/L for white men aged between 20 and 60 years and 132 g/L for older men. The value for women of all ages would be 122 g/L. Also, the lower limit of normal of haemoglobin concentrations of African Americans are appreciably lower than that of Caucasians (Beutler and Warren, 2006).

          Besides the well recognised iron deficiency anaemia, several inherited anaemias are also known. These are mostly haemoglobinopathies. Adult haemoglobin is a tetrameric haeme-protein. Abnormalities of beta-chain or alpha-chain produce the various medically significant haemoglobinopathies. The variations in amino acid composition induced genetically impart marked differences in the oxygen carrying properties of haemoglobin. Mutations in the haemoglobin genes cause disorders that are qualitative abnormalities in the synthesis of haemoglobin (e.g., sickle cell disease) and some that are quantitative abnormalities that pertain to the rate of haemoglobin synthesis (e.g.,

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