Anemia is a common blood disorder. It occurs when you have fewer red blood cells than normal, or not enough hemoglobin in your blood. Hemoglobin is the iron-rich protein in red blood cells. It carries oxygen from your lungs to all parts of your body.
When you have anemia, your blood can’t carry enough oxygen to your body. Without enough oxygen, your body can’t work as well as it should.
There are several different types of anemia. Each has its own cause and treatment. They include:
Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia
Anemia of folate deficiency
Sickle cell anemia
Cooley's anemia (beta thalassemia)
Kidney failure associated anemia
Anemia is often a symptom of another disease. Anemia often occurs when you have:
Too much blood loss
Not enough red blood cells being made
Too many red blood cells being destroyed
More than one of these problems at the same time
Anemia may often be caused by several problems, including:
Anyone can get anemia. But it is more common in women of childbearing age. It's also more common during pregnancy, infancy, and in older adults. Risk factors include:
A diet low in iron-rich foods
Heavy menstrual periods
Lifelong (chronic) diseases such as kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, HIV, Crohn's disease, and heart, liver, or thyroid disease
Most anemia symptoms occur because of less oxygen getting to the body’s cells and tissues (hypoxia). The hemoglobin in red blood cells carries oxygen. So having fewer red blood cells leads to hypoxia. If you have mild anemia, you may not have many symptoms.
Each person’s symptoms will vary. Symptoms may include:
Being very pale
Faster heart rate
Having trouble catching your breath
Lack of energy or tiring easily (fatigue)
Feeling dizzy or faint, especially when standing
Irregular menstruation cycles
Delayed menstruation, or not having a period
Sore or swollen tongue
Yellowing of skin, eyes, and mouth (jaundice)
Enlarged spleen or liver
Not easy for wounds or tissue to heal
Anemia symptoms may look like other blood disorders or health problems. Anemia is often a symptom linked to another disease. So be sure your healthcare provider knows about symptoms you may have. Always see your provider for a diagnosis.
Your healthcare provider may think you have anemia based on your symptoms, health history, and a physical exam. Anemia is often confirmed using blood tests. These tests check your hemoglobin level and your red blood cell count.
You may have additional tests such as:
Other blood tests
Bone marrow aspiration or biopsy. A small amount of bone marrow fluid (aspiration) or solid bone marrow tissue (called a core biopsy) is taken. The sample is often taken from the hip bones. It is checked for the number, size, and maturity of blood cells or abnormal cells.
Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.
Treatment may include:
Treating any underlying cause
Vitamin and mineral supplements
Change in diet
Bone marrow transplant
Surgery to remove the spleen, if it is linked to hemolytic anemia
Antibiotics if an infection is the cause
Mild anemia may cause no problems. But if your body’s organs don't get enough oxygen, you may have organ damage. The heart can be damaged by the increased stress of pumping faster. It can also be damaged by working too hard to carry oxygen to the body. In some cases, the underlying cause of the anemia may be deadly.
Preventing anemia includes eating a well-balanced diet with iron-rich foods. It also includes managing any lifelong (chronic) or underlying conditions that may be causing the anemia. For young women and women with heavy menstrual periods, using birth control medicines may help manage anemia.
Some types of anemia can’t be cured, such as sickle cell anemia. Work with your healthcare provider to make a treatment plan that can reduce the effects of these diseases.
Anemia is a common blood disorder. It happens when you have fewer red blood cells than normal.
Anyone can get anemia. But it is more common in women of childbearing age.
Preventing anemia includes eating a well-balanced diet with iron-rich foods.
Some types of anemia can’t be cured, such as sickle cell anemia.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.