Anemia Overview

What is anemia?

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:

  • Iron-deficiency anemia
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia
  • Anemia of folate deficiency
  • Hemolytic anemia
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Cooley’s anemia (beta thalassemia)
  • Aplastic anemia
  • Chronic anemia
  • Kidney failure associated anemia

What causes 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:

  • Certain infections
  • Certain diseases
  • Certain medicines
  • Poor nutrition
  • Blood loss

Who is at risk for anemia?

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

What are the symptoms of anemia?

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
  • Headache
  • Being irritable
  • 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.

How is anemia diagnosed?

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.