What Causes Microcytic Anemia?

When red blood cells are smaller in size than normal, this is described as microcytosis. Fewer than normal correctly working red cells in the body is described as anemia. Microcytic anemia is a combination of these two conditions, where the red blood cells are abnormally small and the body has abnormally low quantities of red blood cells on top of that. In order for the tissues throughout the body to receive an adequate amount of oxygen to function properly, there must be enough red blood cells, and there must be enough hemoglobin in these red blood cells. Ideally, the hemoglobin in the red blood cells binds with the oxygen when they pass through the lungs, and then pumped by the heart back to other parts of the body where the oxygen is delivered. In microcytic anemia, the body has trouble carrying out this function because there is simply not enough red blood cells and hemoglobin to get the job done. This can eventually lead to tissue damage and organ failure. Learn about the various causes of microcytic anemia now.

Chronic Blood Loss

Upon loss of significant quantities of blood, the body has a mechanism to try and maintain filled blood vessels. The body rapidly draws water from tissues beyond the bloodstream to fill up the empty space in the vessels. This actually dilutes what blood is left in the vessels, skewing the ratio of red blood cells to the total blood quantity in the body. At first, the body can compensate and tell the bone marrow to temporarily increase its production of red blood cells. However, chronic bleeding over time can cause the bone marrow to not be able to keep up with the total quantity of blood loss. Chronic internal bleeding, in particular, can pose a big problem because it often happens in small amounts and goes unnoticed. Stomach and small intestine ulcers, large intestinal polyps, kidney tumors, heavy menstrual bleeding, diverticulosis, large intestinal cancers, and bladder tumors can cause chronic slow bleeding. Other causes of chronic blood loss are more obvious, such as from hemorrhoids and nosebleeds.

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Diabetes Mellitus

While diabetes mellitus is not a direct cause of microcytic anemia, issues that arise from diabetes mellitus do cause it. Kidney disease and failure can greatly contribute to the development of microcytic anemia. Healthy and correctly functioning kidneys release erythropoietin, a hormone that tells bone marrow to make more red blood cells. In kidney problems that are a result of diabetes, the kidneys do not produce enough erythropoietin, leading to microcytic anemia. Diabetes is also known to cause neuropathy, which causes the body to not correctly be able to tell the kidneys to produce enough erythropoietin. Diabetes is also considered to be a condition that interferes with the digestive tract's normal absorption of nutrients. Inadequate abilities to absorb iron from dietary intake make it next to impossible for an individual to maintain sufficient iron in their bodies. In addition, diabetes patients often have trouble consuming a well balanced and nutrient-rich diet, which can also cause an iron deficiency and subsequently microcytic anemia.

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Inadequate Iron Intake

Iron is naturally found in the human body and is essential for maintaining proper red blood cell counts and hemoglobin levels. Almost three-quarters of the human body's iron can be found in myoglobin cells or muscle cells and red blood cells or hemoglobin cells. With inadequate iron intake, the bone marrow cannot produce enough healthy and correctly functioning red blood cells resulting in microcytic anemia. Numerous medical conditions can cause an individual to have a poor diet, such as eating disorders, gastrointestinal tract conditions, stomach problems, liver problems, and diabetes. Other causes of insufficient iron intake include individuals who are homeless or live in severe poverty, elderly individuals who do not have any variety in their diets, children who drink more then sixteen ounces of cow's milk a day, individuals following a vegan or vegetarian diet, individuals who consume excessive caffeine quantities every day, and individuals who take antacids regularly.

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Kidney Disease

The kidneys produce an essential hormone for the stimulation of the bone marrow to do its job called erythropoietin. Erythropoietin is basically a messenger in the form of a chemical that triggers the bone marrow to produce red blood cells, raising the red blood cell count and hemoglobin levels. When partial kidney function has been lost, the kidneys are not able to make enough erythropoietin to sustain a normal production of red blood cells. It is the lack of this hormone that causes microcytic anemia to develop in patients with kidney disease. In addition, many individuals with kidney disease also undergo regular hemodialysis, which can result in a significant quantity of blood loss. Fortunately, like other naturally produced hormones, an artificial hormone to replace erythropoietin has been developed to help treat microcytic anemia that happens as a result of kidney function impairment.

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Copper Deficiency

Copper is a mineral the body needs to facilitate the passing of iron from the basolateral membrane into plasma. Two forms of copper-dependent enzymes called hephaestin and ceruloplasmin are both mainly responsible for the transport of iron into the blood and then throughout the body. Without sufficient levels of copper, the ceruloplasmin would not be able to do its job of oxidizing iron into the form needed for iron to bind with substances such as oxygen. When these processes are carried out normally, oxygen is able to be carried to all tissues of the body successfully, whereas with microcytic anemia from copper deficiency will actually impair the ability of iron to transport oxygen in the red blood cells. Copper is usually provided to the body by dietary intake through foods such as organ meats, beans, seafood, whole grains, and liver.