PETALING JAYA: While Malaysia is on the right track to screen women for iron deficiency, health experts believe the procedure should start at a younger age.
In fact, such screening should be done on newborn babies as well as adolescents, according to obstetrics and gynaecology specialist Datin Dr Lilian George.
“This is to help parents be aware of their children’s condition,” she said.
In Malaysia, she said, the most common time for healthcare workers to discover a person is anaemic is when they are pregnant or go for check-ups at the hospital or clinic, or in the elderly group, she added.
Dr Lilian, a consultant at KPJ Klang Specialist Hospital, said although Malaysia is on its way to achieve its target, more still needs to be done.
“There is a rising trend among women to undergo health screening but there is little awareness of the condition unless the individual is pregnant.
“Sometimes there is the ill-conceived notion that a person is well because she looks or feels fine, even though her body is telling her of aches and fatigue.
“There is always a sign, so that’s when they should see a doctor and have early prevention,” she said.
Private general practitioner Dr Pearl Leong said awareness of iron-deficiency anaemia varies among different segments of the Malaysian public.
She said it largely depends on factors such as education, healthcare access and public health campaigns.
“In Malaysia, efforts have been made to raise awareness of anaemia through initiatives by the government and healthcare organisations.
“It’s important for health authorities to continue promoting awareness and education to ensure early detection and treatment of this condition,” she said.
Dr Milton Lum, a former president of the Federation of Private Medical Practitioners Associations and the Malaysian Medical Association, said factors that cause an individual to lack iron include heavy periods, pregnancy, diet lacking in iron, folic acid and vitamins, particularly B12, and chronic disease, especially renal failure and infections.
“Iron deficiency means there is an insufficient raw material for the body to produce haemoglobin,” he explained.
The condition, said Dr Lum, is often mild and hard to notice so it is important to have increased public awareness and knowledge on it.
Federation of Private Medical Practitioners’ Associations Malaysia president Dr Shanmuganathan TV Ganeson said anaemia develops and eventually symptoms such as pallor, lethargy, dizziness, fatigue or fainting spells may appear.
He said some patients may experience headaches, difficulty concentrating, brittle nails, sore or swollen tongue, or shortness of breath.
“This could be visible when the patients enter the clinic with a visibly pale face and looking tired,” he said.
Dr Shanmuganathan also called on the government to consider having public healthcare facilities offer less nausea-induced medicines similar to what is being prescribed by private clinics and general practitioners.