Anemia is a low level of healthy red blood cells (RBC). RBCs carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. When red blood cells are low the body does not get enough oxygen. This can cause symptoms such as fatigue, pale skin, or irregular heartbeat.
There are several specific types of anemia, including:
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The main causes of anemia are:
Blood loss, such as that caused by:
- Heavy menstrual periods
- Bleeding in the digestive tract
- Bleeding in the urinary tract
Abnormally low RBC production, due to:
Abnormally high RBC destruction, caused by inherited disorders such as:
- Sickle cell anemia
—difficulty in manufacturing hemoglobin
- Enzyme deficiencies
Risk factors that may increase your chances of anemia include:
- Women of childbearing age
- Older adults with other medical condition
- Infants younger than two years
- Poor diet low in iron, vitamins, and minerals
- Blood loss (eg, due to surgery or injury)
- Chronic or serious illness
- Chronic infections
- Family history of inherited anemia (eg, sickle cell anemia, thalassemia)
Symptoms of anemia may include:
- Feeling faint
- Shortness of breath
- Coldness in the hands and feet
- Pale skin
- Chest pain
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Other tests may include:
Tests of your blood:
- Complete Blood Count (CBC)
- Other blood tests
- Blood smear
- Stool sample
Bone marrow aspiration or
Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Options include:
Your doctor may suggest changes to your diet. The diet may include foods rich in iron, vitamin C, vitamin B12, and folate. Vitamins or iron supplements may be added.
To help treat your anemia or your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe:
- Hormone treatment
- Medications that act on the immune system
(for lead poisoning)
Bone Marrow or Stem Cell Transplant
This procedure places healthy
or stem cells in the body. The goal is for the new tissue to produce healthy blood cells. This procedure carries risk. It is only done in severe cases of anemia.
Critical bleeding may be treated with surgery. In cases of very high RBC destruction, your
may need to be surgically removed.
Most inherited forms of anemia cannot be prevented. But the following steps may be taken to prevent certain types of anemia:
- Eat a diet rich in iron and vitamins
- Take iron or vitamin supplements, as recommended by your doctor
- Treat underlying causes of anemia
- Report signs and symptoms, especially chronic fatigue, to your doctor
Iron Disorders Institute
National Anemia Action Council
Government of British Columbia Ministry of Health
Anemia—differential diagnosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
. Updated September 8, 2011. Accessed November 2, 2012.
Anemia. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at:
Accessed November 1, 2012.
Guralnik JM, Eisenstaedt RS, Ferrucci L, Klein HG, Woodman RC. Prevalence of anemia in persons 65 years and older in the United States: evidence for a high rate of unexplained anemia.
Nissenson AR, Goodnough LT, Dubois RW. Anemia: not just an innocent bystander?
Arch Intern Med