Anemia is a common blood disorder that occurs when you have fewer red blood cells than normal. This disorder also causes red blood cells to not have enough hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein in the blood that carries oxygen from your lungs to tissues in your body. If you have anemia, your organs and tissues don’t have enough oxygen to work as well as they should.
Anemia has three main causes: loss of blood, lack of red blood cell production, or high rates of damage to your red blood cells. These can be caused by a variety of problems, including infections, different types of cancer, certain diseases, medications, iron deficiency, and poor nutrition. Women and people with chronic diseases are most at risk for anemia.
The symptoms of anemia may resemble other blood disorders or medical problems. Individuals with anemia may feel chronically tired, short of breath, and notice an overall lack of energy. Anemia is often a symptom of a disease rather than a disease itself. Because it is often associated with another disease, it’s important to report to your doctor any symptoms you may be experiencing.
There are many different types of anemia, each with a specific cause and treatment. Two forms of anemia are directly related to the foods we consume:
- Iron-deficiency anemia: is the most common type, and happens when you don’t have enough iron in your body.
- Folate deficiency anemia: occurs when you don’t consume enough of the vitamin folate, or if your body has trouble absorbing vitamins. Folate can be found in foods like leafy green vegetables, fruits, and peas.
People with underlying blood disorders, such as sickle cell disease and thalassemia, are also at risk for anemia:
- Sickle cell disease: With sickle cell disease, abnormally shaped red blood cells break down sooner than normal red blood cells and your body can’t produce new red blood cells quickly enough. This can lead to a condition called sickle cell anemia.
- Thalassemia: If you have the blood disorder thalassemia, your body has problems making hemoglobin, which can lead to mild or severe anemia. Cooley’s anemia is a severe form of this condition.
Tests and Procedures
Anemia is usually discovered through blood tests that measure the concentration of hemoglobin and the number of red blood cells. Bone marrow aspiration and/or biopsy are also sometimes used to diagnose anemia. During these procedures, doctors take a small amount of bone marrow fluid (aspiration) and/or solid bone marrow tissue (called a core biopsy), usually from the hip bones. The sample is then examined for the number, size, and maturity of blood cells and/or abnormal cells.
Treatment for anemia may include vitamin and mineral supplements, medications, and/or changes to your diet. Blood transfusion, bone marrow transplant, or surgery may be necessary in some cases. If another disease is the underlying cause of anemia, your doctor will recommend an appropriate treatment plan for that disease.
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- What is Anemia? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/anemia/
- Sickle Cell Anemia. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/sicklecellanemia.html
- Thalassemia. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/thalassemia.html
- Anemia Fact Sheet. Office of Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/anemia.html