Anemia is a medical condition that occurs when your blood doesn’t have enough red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the organs in your body. If you don’t have enough red blood cells, your body doesn’t get enough oxygen. This may cause you to feel tired or shortness of breath.
There are several types of anemia. Each type has its own cause and treatment protocol.
- Iron-deficiency anemia
- Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia
- Sickle cell anemia
- Hemolytic anemia
- Aplastic anemia
If untreated, anemia can cause serious complications. When you don’t have enough red blood cells, your heart has to work harder to get enough oxygen to your organs. This extra work can cause the wall of your heart muscle to thicken; a condition called left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH). LVH is serious and can require hospitalization and sometimes it can cause death.
Anemia begins gradually, and at first you may not have symptoms. As the condition worsens, you may notice the following symptoms:
- Low energy and feel tired, weak, dizzy, irritable, depressed, or have trouble concentrating
- Pale skin, brittle nails, or cold hands
- Shortness of breath, chest pain, or an irregular heartbeat
- Wanting to eat unusual things such as paper, dirt, or clay
Check with your healthcare provider if:
- You experience the symptoms of anemia, such as increasing low energy or pale skin, or wanting to eat unusual things
- You have shortness of breath, chest pain, or an irregular heartbeat
- You think for any reason that you may have anemia
- You notice blood in your stool
Different conditions can cause anemia. These conditions include:
- Internal bleeding
- Blood loss, especially in women who lose a lot of blood during heavy menstrual periods
- Chronic illness
- Sickle Cell Anemia
- Vitamin deficiencies
Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia. Many people, including about 1 in 5 women, don’t have enough iron in their bodies. In some cases, these individuals are unable to absorb enough iron from foods because of digestive tract diseases. Pregnant women are also at higher risk of developing iron deficiency anemia because of the demand of iron for their baby.
If you or your healthcare provider think you have anemia, you will have a blood test called a complete blood count (CBC). This test will determine your blood level of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the protein molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen to the body.
If the CBC test shows you that you have anemia, your healthcare provider will perform other tests to determine what is causing your anemia, and what the best treatment would be.
Treatment will depend on the cause of your anemia and your overall health. Common treatments include:
- Iron supplements
- Diet changes to increase iron consumption
- Blood transfusion
- Bone marrow transplant
Common types of anemia can be prevented and treated by eating iron-rich foods, or by taking iron supplements.
If your healthcare provider has recommended taking iron supplements, be sure to take them exactly as directed. Take them even if you’re feeling better. This can prevent anemia from recurring.