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Sports Anemia vs True Anemia

Sports Anemia in Athletes

There is a condition that exists among athletes today called sports anemia that is often confused with true anemia caused by an iron deficiency in the body. Here are the key factors that differentiate sports anemia from true anemia and some prevention and treatment tips for both conditions that athletes may suffer from.

Understanding Sports Anemia

Sports anemia is a condition in which an individual has a hemoglobin concentration that is less than ideal for endurance performance. Research shows that this condition can be caused by plasma volume expansion, low hemoglobin synthesis, or by the increased destruction of red blood cells. An increased level of intensity in workouts is a common cause of this condition in athletes.

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Sports anemia is sometimes referred to as dilutional pseudoanemia because it involves a sudden loss of plasma volume early-on in one’s workout. This is typically due to the production of sweat and fluid loss, as well as an increase in arterial blood pressure and muscular compression of venules.

High iron loss due to very intense training is a common cause of this condition. In general, athletes naturally have lower hemoglobin concentrations than individuals who are sedentary. However, some research suggests that sports anemia can actually be a beneficial adaption to exercise. But with that said, athletes must be careful to consume an adequate amount of iron in their diets to avoid developing true anemia.

Who Develops Sports Anemia?

Few athletes are truly anemic; however, many athletes have hemoglobin concentrations that are not high enough to support their strenuous activities. Certain lifestyle habits make athletes more susceptible to sports anemia, including a diet low in iron, vitamin C, vitamin B12, or folic acid.

Female athletes are also more susceptible to developing anemic-like conditions due to monthly blood loss through menstruation. Male and female athletes who are ramping up their training routines to prepare for competition often experience this condition and misdiagnose themselves as having true anemia. Sports anemia is sometimes called a pseudo-condition, but it deserves recognition and proper care just like any other medical concern.

Understanding True Anemia

True anemia is due to an iron deficiency in the body and a condition in which the blood has an abnormally low number of red blood cells. Sports anemia, on the other hand, does not involve a substantially low red blood cell count. While endurance exercises cause an increase in plasma blood volume, true anemia involves dangerously low levels of hemoglobin for basic human functioning.

Preventing and Treating Anemia

Although sports anemia and true anemia are two different conditions, a diet low in iron can be the root cause of them both. Athletes should have their iron levels tested on a regular basis, especially if symptoms of fatigue emerge. Doctors frequently recommend iron supplements like Fergon for athletes. Training modifications may also be recommended to reduce or space out the intensity of workouts so that the body can sustain a healthy amount of iron for optimal athletic performance. Fortunately for athletes, sports anemia is often easier and quicker to treat than true iron deficiency anemia with moderate adjustments.

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