There is one cause of shortness of breath that is less well known and needs to be considered because it may be a sign that the individual is suffering from anemia.
Sunway Velocity Medical Center (SMCV) Consultant Hematologist Dr Henning Loo said anemia is not a disease, but a symptom of a deficiency of red blood cells or hemoglobin in the body and it can cause difficulty breathing.
Below is an English translated version of an article originally published in MyMetro (Harian Metro online) in Bahasa Malaysia on 27-09-2020.
Original title and all images from: Anemia sebabkan sesak nafas
According to him, shortness of breath occurs when body tissues, especially the tissues of major organs such as the heart and lungs do not receive adequate oxygen supply from red blood cells due to lack of cells.
“For heart patients, lack of blood makes them difficult to breathe which is accompanied by pain in the chest.
“Typically, patients with heart, blood vessels to their heart are clogged at least 50 percent causing the blood supply to these organs to decrease and cause the symptoms to get worse,” he said.
He said individuals with a slight anemia would not experience symptoms of anemia.
“However, he can feel the change while walking with a sigh when walking 100 meters compared to before at a longer distance.
“Patients with anemia can also feel dizzy due to lack of oxygen in the brain and risk fainting,” he said.
What Causes Anemia?
According to Dr. Henning, there are three causes of anemia.
First, bone marrow problems that result in disruption of red blood cell production.
“Bone marrow works to produce all blood cells, namely red cells, white blood cells and platelets.
“The second cause is red blood cells being destroyed earlier due to certain diseases.
“The normal lifespan of red blood cells in the body is about 120 days before new cells are replaced,” he said.
According to Dr Henning, the last cause is the bleeding that women usually experience during menstruation and in addition they do not take enough iron during that period (menstruation).
“For the elderly, we are worried they may have bleeding in the intestines or stomach because of gastritis or more serious problems such as bowel cancer.
“Children who suffer from anemia because they do not practice hygiene, may be due to worm infections such as ‘hookworm’,” he said.
According to Dr Henning, the way to find out if an individual has anemia or not is through a blood test to find out the hemoglobin level.
“This is because normal hemoglobin levels for women are between 12.0 to 15.5 grams per deciliter (g / dL) while men are 13.5 to 17.5 g / dL.
“Further examination is also done to find out the cause of individuals suffering from anemia,” he said.
Apart from that, he said, a ‘peripheral blood smear’ test was done to see the number and shape of blood cells in the body as well as abnormal blood cells.
Anemia & Shortness of Breath
Meanwhile, SMCV Consultant Medical and Lung Specialist, Dr Nurul Yaqeen Mohd Esa said, shortness of breath associated with common respiratory diseases as well as pneumonia are tuberculosis, watery lungs, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cancer lungs.
“For those who have sudden shortness of breath accompanied by chest pain or tightness, they may have ‘pneumothorax’ (air between the lungs and the chest wall).
“However, if there is persistent shortness of breath and worsening coupled with cigarette smoke exposure, it is possible that the patient has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD),” she said.