Anaemia – an exhausting condition

Anaemia is a common condition describing someone with an abnormally low red blood cell count.

Healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells, also known as erythrocytes, are produced by our bone marrow at a rate of 2.5 million cells per second and they live for around 120 days. The production of these red blood cells is driven by a hormone called erythropoietin (EPO) which is produced in the kidneys and the process of red blood cell maturation is called erythropoiesis.

Red blood cells use an iron-rich protein called haemoglobin to bind oxygen and deliver it to the cells and tissues of our bodies. Blood travels to the heart and is pumped into the lungs where it is re-oxygenated. The blood then returns to the heart which sends it around the body through a network of vessels known as the vascular system.  

When a person is anaemic, there are too few red blood cells circulating in the bloodstream because they are being lost or destroyed too quickly, produced too slowly or are deformed or defective. As a result, the blood cannot effectively transport the oxygen inhaled from the lungs to the tissues of the body.  

The main symptom of anaemia is extreme fatigue. As well as feeling very tired for long periods, patients may notice shortness of breath when climbing stairs or palpitations.