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Factors that affect haemoglobin levels and how to detect when it’s low

Published:Wednesday | August 10, 2022 | 12:07 AMKeisha Hill/Senior Gleaner Writer
Blood testing
Blood testing

HAEMOGLOBIN IS a protein in your red blood cells. Your red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body. If you have a condition that affects your body’s ability to make red blood cells, your haemoglobin levels may drop. Low haemoglobin levels may be a symptom of several conditions, including different kinds of anaemia and cancer.

If a disease or condition affects your body’s ability to produce red blood cells, your haemoglobin levels may drop. When your haemoglobin level is low, it means your body is not getting enough oxygen, making you feel very tired and weak.

Normal haemoglobin levels are different for men and women. For men, a normal level ranges between 14.0 grams per decilitre (gm/dL) and 17.5 gm/dL. For women, a normal level ranges between 12.3 gm/dL and 15.3 gm/dL. A severe low-haemoglobin level for men is 13.5 gm/dL or lower. For women, a severe low haemoglobin level is 12 gm/dL.

Your doctor diagnoses low haemoglobin by taking samples of your blood and measuring the amount of haemoglobin in it. This is a haemoglobin test. They may also analyse different types of haemoglobin in your red blood cells, or haemoglobin electrophoresis.

Several factors affect haemoglobin levels and the following situations may be among them:

· Your body produces red blood cells and white blood cells in your bone marrow. Sometimes, conditions and diseases affect your bone marrow’s ability to produce or support enough red blood cells.

· Your body produces enough red blood cells, but the cells are dying faster than your body can replace them.

· You are losing blood from injury or illness. You lose iron any time you lose blood. Sometimes, women have low haemoglobin levels when they have their periods. You may also lose blood if you have internal bleeding, such as a bleeding ulcer.

· Your body cannot absorb iron, which affects your body’s ability to develop red blood cells.

· You are not getting enough essential nutrients like iron and vitamins B12 and B9.

Your bone marrow produces red blood cells. Diseases, conditions and other factors that affect red blood cell production include:

· Lymphoma: This is a term for cancers in your lymphatic system. If you have lymphoma cells in your bone marrow, those cells can crowd out red blood cells, reducing the number of red blood cells.

· Leukaemia: This is cancer of your blood and bone marrow. Leukaemia cells in your bone marrow can limit the number of red blood cells your bone marrow produces.

· Anaemia: There are many kinds of anaemias involving low-haemoglobin levels. For example, if you have aplastic anaemia, the stem cells in your bone marrow don’t create enough blood cells. In pernicious anaemia, an autoimmune disorder keeps your body from absorbing vitamin B12. Without enough B12, your body produces fewer red blood cells.

· Multiple Myeloma: This causes your body to develop abnormal plasma cells that may displace red blood cells.

· Chronic Kidney Disease: Your kidneys don’t produce the hormone that signals to your bone marrow to make red blood cells. Chronic kidney disease affects this process.

· Antiretroviral medications: These medications treat certain viruses. Sometimes these medications damage your bone marrow, affecting its ability to make enough red blood cells.

· Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy may affect bone marrow cells, reducing the number of red blood cells your bone marrow produces.

Doctors treat low haemoglobin by diagnosing the underlying cause. For example, if your haemoglobin levels are low, your healthcare provider may do tests that reveal you have iron-deficiency anaemia. If that is your situation, they will treat your anaemia with supplements. They may recommend that you try to follow an iron-rich diet. In most cases, treating the underlying cause of anaemia will bring the haemoglobin level up.

Many things can cause low haemoglobin, and most of the time you cannot manage low haemoglobin on your own. But eating a vitamin-rich diet can help maintain your red blood cells. Generally, a balanced diet with a focus on important nutrients is the best way to maintain healthy red blood cells and haemoglobin.

keisha.hill@gleanerjm.comSOURCE: Centres for Disease Control and Prevention