What is anemia?
Anemia is defined as the condition of not having enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body, and there are many forms of it. Some people, like those suffering from conditions like sickle cell anemia or thalassemia, are anemic from birth; their bodies inherit difficulty producing red blood cells or specific parts of red blood cells. Other times anemia is caused by a B12 vitamin deficiency. But the majority of the roughly 3 million Americans suffer from iron-deficiency anemia, says Marc J. Kahn, MD, the Peterman-Prosser professor and senior associate dean at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans. Iron is necessary for the production of healthy red blood cells, and the people at greatest risk for losing iron are women of childbearing age, thanks to their monthly periods. So read on to discover the surprising symptoms of anemia, and what to do if you have any of them.
It’s hard to catch your breath when you exercise
Korawat photo shoot/Shutterstock
Without enough iron, the body cannot produce enough of a specific type of protein called hemoglobin, which is crucial to the functioning of red blood cells. Hemoglobin, which is so rich with iron that it gives blood its red color, allows oxygen to bond to the cells so the cells can carry it in the bloodstream throughout the body. When there isn’t enough iron to create adequate amounts of hemoglobin, some parts of the body will not receive the oxygen they need. The result: You can’t exercise the way you used to, says Dr. Kahn. “So you might say, ‘I used to be able to run three miles and now when I run two blocks, it’s hard to catch my breath.'”