Cycling with anaemia

Cycling with anaemia

I’ve found myself exhausted for days after harder-than-usual rides. I’ve also noticed that I’m prone to viral infection. A blood test revealed that I am slightly anaemic (13.2g/dl). My GP has asked for another test in three months. At 65, I wish to carry on cycling. Must I stop/reduce the long, hard rides to prevent ‘crashing’?

Eric Gorton

Anaemia is the term used for levels of haemoglobin in the blood which are below normal. Haemoglobin binds oxygen, so anaemia results in less oxygen being carried around the body. Symptoms include feeling breathless, dizzy and tired. The severity of symptoms will, in part, depend on the level of anaemia.

Red blood cells are made in the bone marrow, and a constant new supply is needed to replace old cells that break down. This requires a healthy bone marrow and nutrients including iron and some vitamins such as vitamin B12 and folic acid.

A one-off haemoglobin level just below normal needs repeating as it may be transient. However, if the anaemia is persistent or worsening, investigation will be required to identify the cause. Your GP can do blood tests to check iron stores, vitamin B12 and folate levels. Other tests may be required – for instance, looking for possible blood loss in iron-deficiency anaemia.

Iron-deficiency anaemia may be due to: blood loss (for instance, from the bowel); pregnancy or heavy menstrual periods in women; poor diet; or poor absorption of
iron e.g. in coeliac disease. Other causes of anaemia include folic acid and vitamin B12 deficiency, red blood cell disorders, bone marrow problems, and chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or kidney disease.

Treatment of anaemia depends on the cause but may involve iron tablets or vitamin B12 injections. In mild anaemia, symptoms are likely to be less problematic although this will depend on factors such as your general fitness and other health conditions. You may have to reduce longer more strenuous rides to compensate but if the cause for your anaemia is identified and treated, this may only be temporary.

Dr Matt Brooks

Cycling GP

This Q&A was published in 'Cycle' the magazine for members of Cycling UK. To contact the experts, email your technical, health, legal or policy questions to editor@cyclinguk.org or write to Cycle Q&A, PO Box 313, Scarborough, YO12 6WZ

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