Anemia - Symptoms and causes (2022)

Overview

Anemia is a condition in which you lack enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your body's tissues. Having anemia, also referred to as low hemoglobin, can make you feel tired and weak.

There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term and can range from mild to severe. In most cases, anemia has more than one cause. See your doctor if you suspect that you have anemia. It can be a warning sign of serious illness.

Treatments for anemia, which depend on the cause, range from taking supplements to having medical procedures. You might be able to prevent some types of anemia by eating a healthy, varied diet.

Types

  1. Aplastic anemia
  2. Iron deficiency anemia
  3. Sickle cell anemia
  4. Thalassemia
  5. Vitamin deficiency anemia

Symptoms

Anemia signs and symptoms vary depending on the cause and severity of anemia. Depending on the causes of your anemia, you might have no symptoms.

Signs and symptoms, if they do occur, might include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Pale or yellowish skin
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Chest pain
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Headaches

At first, anemia can be so mild that you don't notice it. But symptoms worsen as anemia worsens.

(Video) Anemia - Causes, Symptoms, Treatments & More…

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you feel fatigued and you don't know why.

Fatigue has many causes besides anemia, so don't assume that if you're tired you must be anemic. Some people learn that their hemoglobin is low, which indicates anemia, when they donate blood. If you're told that you can't donate because of low hemoglobin, make an appointment with your doctor.

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(Video) Anemia - Causes, Symptoms, Treatments and Prevention

Causes

Anemia can be due to a condition present at birth (congenital) or to a condition you develop (acquired). Anemia occurs when your blood doesn't have enough red blood cells.

(Video) Anemia, Causes, Signs and Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

This can happen if:

  • Your body doesn't make enough red blood cells
  • Bleeding causes you to lose red blood cells more quickly than they can be replaced
  • Your body destroys red blood cells

What red blood cells do

Your body makes three types of blood cells — white blood cells to fight infection, platelets to help your blood clot, and red blood cells to carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body and carbon dioxide from the body back to the lungs.

Red blood cells contain hemoglobin — an iron-rich protein that gives blood its red color. Hemoglobin enables red blood cells to carry oxygen from your lungs to all parts of your body and to carry carbon dioxide from other parts of the body to your lungs to be exhaled.

Most blood cells, including red blood cells, are produced regularly in your bone marrow — a spongy material found within the cavities of many of your large bones. To produce hemoglobin and red blood cells, your body needs iron, vitamin B-12, folate and other nutrients from the foods you eat.

Causes of anemia

Different types of anemia have different causes. They include:

  • Iron deficiency anemia. This most common type of anemia is caused by a shortage of iron in your body. Your bone marrow needs iron to make hemoglobin. Without adequate iron, your body can't produce enough hemoglobin for red blood cells.

    Without iron supplementation, this type of anemia occurs in many pregnant women. It's also caused by blood loss, such as from heavy menstrual bleeding; an ulcer in the stomach or small bowel; cancer of the large bowel; and regular use of some pain relievers that are available without a prescription, especially aspirin, which can cause inflammation of the stomach lining resulting in blood loss. It's important to determine the source of iron deficiency to prevent recurrence of the anemia.

  • Vitamin deficiency anemia. Besides iron, your body needs folate and vitamin B-12 to produce enough healthy red blood cells. A diet lacking in these and other key nutrients can cause decreased red blood cell production. Some people who consume enough B-12 aren't able to absorb the vitamin. This can lead to vitamin deficiency anemia, also known as pernicious anemia.
  • Anemia of inflammation. Certain diseases — such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, Crohn's disease and other acute or chronic inflammatory diseases — can interfere with the production of red blood cells.
  • Aplastic anemia. This rare, life-threatening anemia occurs when your body doesn't produce enough red blood cells. Causes of aplastic anemia include infections, certain medicines, autoimmune diseases and exposure to toxic chemicals.
  • Anemias associated with bone marrow disease. A variety of diseases, such as leukemia and myelofibrosis, can cause anemia by affecting blood production in your bone marrow. The effects of these types of cancer and cancer-like disorders vary from mild to life-threatening.
  • Hemolytic anemias. This group of anemias develops when red blood cells are destroyed faster than bone marrow can replace them. Certain blood diseases increase red blood cell destruction. You can inherit a hemolytic anemia, or you can develop it later in life.
  • Sickle cell anemia. This inherited and sometimes serious condition is a hemolytic anemia. It's caused by a defective form of hemoglobin that forces red blood cells to assume an abnormal crescent (sickle) shape. These irregular blood cells die prematurely, resulting in a chronic shortage of red blood cells.

Risk factors

These factors place you at increased risk of anemia:

(Video) Iron-Deficiency Anemia (Overview) | Causes, Pathophysiology, Signs & Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

  • A diet lacking in certain vitamins and minerals. A diet consistently low in iron, vitamin B-12, folate and copper increases your risk of anemia.
  • Intestinal disorders. Having an intestinal disorder that affects the absorption of nutrients in your small intestine — such as Crohn's disease and celiac disease — puts you at risk of anemia.
  • Menstruation. In general, women who haven't had menopause have a greater risk of iron deficiency anemia than do men and postmenopausal women. Menstruation causes the loss of red blood cells.
  • Pregnancy. Being pregnant and not taking a multivitamin with folic acid and iron, increases your risk of anemia.
  • Chronic conditions. If you have cancer, kidney failure or another chronic condition, you could be at risk of anemia of chronic disease. These conditions can lead to a shortage of red blood cells.

    Slow, chronic blood loss from an ulcer or other source within your body can deplete your body's store of iron, leading to iron deficiency anemia.

  • Family history. If your family has a history of an inherited anemia, such as sickle cell anemia, you also might be at increased risk of the condition.
  • Other factors. A history of certain infections, blood diseases and autoimmune disorders increases your risk of anemia. Alcoholism, exposure to toxic chemicals and the use of some medications can affect red blood cell production and lead to anemia.
  • Age. People over age 65 are at increased risk of anemia.

Complications

Left untreated, anemia can cause many health problems, such as:

  • Extreme fatigue. Severe anemia can make you so tired that you can't complete everyday tasks.
  • Pregnancy complications. Pregnant women with folate deficiency anemia can be more likely to have complications, such as premature birth.
  • Heart problems. Anemia can lead to a rapid or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). When you're anemic your heart pumps more blood to make up for the lack of oxygen in the blood. This can lead to an enlarged heart or heart failure.
  • Death. Some inherited anemias, such as sickle cell anemia, can lead to life-threatening complications. Losing a lot of blood quickly results in acute, severe anemia and can be fatal. Among older people, anemia is associated with an increased risk of death.

Prevention

Many types of anemia can't be prevented. But you can avoid iron deficiency anemia and vitamin deficiency anemias by eating a diet that includes a variety of vitamins and minerals, including:

  • Iron. Iron-rich foods include beef and other meats, beans, lentils, iron-fortified cereals, dark green leafy vegetables and dried fruit.
  • Folate. This nutrient, and its synthetic form folic acid, can be found in fruits and fruit juices, dark green leafy vegetables, green peas, kidney beans, peanuts, and enriched grain products, such as bread, cereal, pasta and rice.
  • Vitamin B-12. Foods rich in vitamin B-12 include meat, dairy products, and fortified cereal and soy products.
  • Vitamin C. Foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits and juices, peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, melons and strawberries. These also help increase iron absorption.

If you're concerned about getting enough vitamins and minerals from food, ask your doctor whether a multivitamin might help.

Feb. 11, 2022

FAQs

What are the 3 main causes of anemia? ›

Hemoglobin is an iron-rich protein that gives the red color to blood. It carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Anemia has three main causes: blood loss, lack of red blood cell production, and high rates of red blood cell destruction.

What are the 5 causes of anemia? ›

What is the most cause of anemia? ›

The most common causes of anaemia include nutritional deficiencies, particularly iron deficiency, though deficiencies in folate, vitamins B12 and A are also important causes; haemoglobinopathies; and infectious diseases, such as malaria, tuberculosis, HIV and parasitic infections.

What is the fastest way to cure anemia? ›

Choose iron-rich foods
  1. Red meat, pork and poultry.
  2. Seafood.
  3. Beans.
  4. Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach.
  5. Dried fruit, such as raisins and apricots.
  6. Iron-fortified cereals, breads and pastas.
  7. Peas.
4 Jan 2022

What foods to avoid if you are anemic? ›

Foods to avoid
  • tea and coffee.
  • milk and some dairy products.
  • foods that contain tannins, such as grapes, corn, and sorghum.
  • foods that contain phytates or phytic acid, such as brown rice and whole-grain wheat products.
  • foods that contain oxalic acid, such as peanuts, parsley, and chocolate.

Is being anemic serious? ›

Severe iron deficiency anaemia may increase your risk of developing complications that affect the heart or lungs, such as an abnormally fast heartbeat (tachycardia) or heart failure, where your heart is unable to pump enough blood around your body at the right pressure.

Does anemia go away? ›

Mild anemia is a common and treatable condition that can develop in anyone. It may come about suddenly or over time, and may be caused by your diet, medicines you take, or another medical condition. Anemia can also be chronic, meaning it lasts a long time and may never go away completely.

Can anemia cause weight gain? ›

Iron-deficient people experience low energy levels and sudden weight gain because of an underactive thyroid gland.

How does anemia make you feel? ›

Left untreated, however, iron-deficiency anemia can make you feel tired and weak. You may notice pale skin and cold hands and feet. Iron-deficiency anemia can also cause you to feel dizzy or lightheaded. Occasionally, it can cause chest pain, a fast heartbeat and shortness of breath.

What foods cure anemia? ›

No single food will cure anemia. But eating an overall healthy diet rich in dark, leafy greens, nuts and seeds, seafood, meat, beans, and vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables can help you get the iron you need to manage anemia.

What drink has a lot of iron in it? ›

A. Juices like prune juice, beetroot juice, pumpkin juice and spinach juice are rich plant-based iron sources. They are also a powerhouse of various vitamins and minerals, which increase your body's healthy iron levels.

What cancers cause anemia? ›

Cancers that involve the bone marrow, like leukemia or lymphoma, can cause anemia because red blood cells are produced in the marrow. Some cancers can metastasize to the bone marrow, such as breast and prostate cancer, and if this happens can also interfere with red blood cell production and cause anemia.

What happens to your body when you're anemic? ›

Anemia results when the red blood cells break down quickly, so oxygen doesn't get to your organs. The crescent-shaped red blood cells can also get stuck in tiny blood vessels and cause pain. Vitamin-deficiency anemia can happen when you aren't getting enough vitamin B12 and folate.

How long does it take to recover from anemia? ›

Iron supplements, also called iron pills or oral iron, help increase the iron in your body. This is the most common treatment for iron-deficiency anemia. It often takes three to six months to restore your iron levels.

Does anemia make you sleepy? ›

Your body relies on iron to make hemoglobin, so when iron is low, you can become anemic. Your cells don't receive enough oxygen, and you feel tired. “The most frequent symptom of iron-deficiency anemia is fatigue,” says Kathryn Boling, MD, a family doctor at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.

What level of anemia is severe? ›

Mild anemia corresponds to a level of hemoglobin concentration of 10.0-10.9 g/dl for pregnant women and children under age 5 and 10.0-11.9 g/dl for nonpregnant women. For all of the tested groups, moderate anemia corresponds to a level of 7.0-9.9 g/dl, while severe anemia corresponds to a level less than 7.0 g/dl.

What does anemia fatigue feel like? ›

If you're feeling tired or weak, having trouble sleeping and are unable to tolerate even moderate exercise, anemia could be the culprit. Anemia develops when there aren't enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen through your body.

What fruit is highest in iron? ›

Prune juice, olives and mulberries are the three types of fruit with the highest iron concentration per portion. These fruit also contain antioxidants and a variety of other nutrients beneficial to health.

Is Egg good for anemia? ›

Low iron levels are a common concern for blood donors, so you might be wondering if eggs are a good source of iron to help you out. Fortunately, eggs are a great source of iron, protein and other essential vitamins.

Which vitamins help with anemia? ›

Most adults need these daily dietary amounts of the following vitamins: Vitamin B-12 — 2.4 micrograms (mcg) Folate or folic acid — 400 mcg.
...
Foods rich in vitamin B-12 include:
  • Beef, liver, chicken and fish.
  • Eggs.
  • Fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals.
  • Milk, cheese and yogurt.
18 Jan 2022

Can anemia turn into leukemia? ›

Anemia and leukemia are both conditions that affect a person's blood. Although there is no evidence that anemia can cause leukemia, people with leukemia are more likely to develop anemia. This could be because leukemia, a form of blood cancer, causes anemia, which involves a reduction in red blood cells.

What is the last stage of anemia? ›

The last stage is iron deficiency anemia. It is characterized by a low hemoglobin concentration with small (microcytic), pale (hypochromic) RBCs. Symptoms include fatigue upon exertion, weakness, headaches, apathy, pallor, poor resistance to cold temperatures, low physical work capacity, and poor immune function.

Who is most at risk for anemia? ›

Many people are at risk for anemia because of poor diet, intestinal disorders, chronic diseases, infections, and other conditions. Women who are menstruating or pregnant and people with chronic medical conditions are most at risk for this disease. The risk of anemia increases as people grow older.

Should you rest with anemia? ›

What to do if you have anemia. If your red blood cell count is low, you should: Save your energy. Rest when you are tired.

What are the 3 stages of iron deficiency symptoms? ›

The First stage is Iron Depletion in which Iron in body becomes low, The second stage is reduced Iron availability which effects and reduces the production of red blood cells. The Third Stage is Anemia due to the reduction of red blood cells and Haemoglobin.

Does anemia make you hungry? ›

Iron deficiency anemia (IDA) is associated with decreased appetite.

Does anemia affect your eyes? ›

Anemia causes retinal hypoxia, which leads to infarction of the nerve fiber layer and clinically manifests as cotton wool spots. Retinal hypoxia also leads to vascular dilatation; increased transmural pressure owing to hypoproteinemia; and microtraumas to the vessel walls, which cause retinal edema and hemorrhages.

Does anemia cause anxiety? ›

A large 2020 study in BMC Psychiatry found that people with iron deficiency anemia had a significantly higher incidence and risk of anxiety disorders, depression, sleep disorder, and psychotic disorders.

What happens if anemia is not treated? ›

If left untreated, the symptoms of anemia will become worse over time. Some of these symptoms are: fatigue, weakness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath or lightheadness. If anemia is not treated, the heart continues to pump harder to get oxygen through the body.

How much sleep does an anemic person need? ›

One of the best ways to manage anemia-related fatigue is to try and get sufficient sleep. However, you will want to avoid sleeping too much because that will add to fatigue. Instead, aim to get seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Naps are fine but limit yourself to one short 20- to 30-minute nap a day.

Is anemia worse at night? ›

Oxygen deprivation causes them to work overtime and cause fatigue, weakness, severe cramps, and restless leg syndrome (RLS), which may contribute to insomnia. Anemic patients may feel a crawling or itchy sensation in the feet and legs, which can worsen at night.

Does drinking water help anemia? ›

In conclusion, a steady and sufficient water intake may contribute to alleviate anemia by increasing hemoglobin. Additionally, it may decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease by decreasing platelet activation and concentration of hs-CRP.

What snack foods are high in iron? ›

One of the simplest ways to increase your levels of iron is with high-iron snacks that can be incorporated into your daily routine. Dried fruits like raisins, apricots and prunes are among the best sources of non-heme iron, followed by nuts like almonds and Brazil nuts (Wax, 2015).

Does orange juice help with anemia? ›

Orange juice is also a good beverage choice if you've become anemic because you're deficient in folate. Each cup of orange juice has 74 micrograms of folate. That's almost 19 percent of an adult's daily requirement.

Does anemia go away? ›

Mild anemia is a common and treatable condition that can develop in anyone. It may come about suddenly or over time, and may be caused by your diet, medicines you take, or another medical condition. Anemia can also be chronic, meaning it lasts a long time and may never go away completely.

How long does it take to recover from anemia? ›

Iron supplements, also called iron pills or oral iron, help increase the iron in your body. This is the most common treatment for iron-deficiency anemia. It often takes three to six months to restore your iron levels.

Is being anemic serious? ›

Severe iron deficiency anaemia may increase your risk of developing complications that affect the heart or lungs, such as an abnormally fast heartbeat (tachycardia) or heart failure, where your heart is unable to pump enough blood around your body at the right pressure.

What level of anemia is severe? ›

Mild anemia corresponds to a level of hemoglobin concentration of 10.0-10.9 g/dl for pregnant women and children under age 5 and 10.0-11.9 g/dl for nonpregnant women. For all of the tested groups, moderate anemia corresponds to a level of 7.0-9.9 g/dl, while severe anemia corresponds to a level less than 7.0 g/dl.

Can anemia turn into leukemia? ›

Anemia and leukemia are both conditions that affect a person's blood. Although there is no evidence that anemia can cause leukemia, people with leukemia are more likely to develop anemia. This could be because leukemia, a form of blood cancer, causes anemia, which involves a reduction in red blood cells.

Can anemia cause weight gain? ›

Iron-deficient people experience low energy levels and sudden weight gain because of an underactive thyroid gland.

What is the last stage of anemia? ›

The last stage is iron deficiency anemia. It is characterized by a low hemoglobin concentration with small (microcytic), pale (hypochromic) RBCs. Symptoms include fatigue upon exertion, weakness, headaches, apathy, pallor, poor resistance to cold temperatures, low physical work capacity, and poor immune function.

What drink has a lot of iron in it? ›

A. Juices like prune juice, beetroot juice, pumpkin juice and spinach juice are rich plant-based iron sources. They are also a powerhouse of various vitamins and minerals, which increase your body's healthy iron levels.

What does anemia fatigue feel like? ›

If you're feeling tired or weak, having trouble sleeping and are unable to tolerate even moderate exercise, anemia could be the culprit. Anemia develops when there aren't enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen through your body.

Can you be hospitalized for low iron? ›

Severe iron-deficiency anemia may require a blood transfusion, iron injections, or intravenous (IV) iron therapy. Treatment may need to be done in a hospital.

Why would I suddenly become anemic? ›

There are three main reasons people become anemic: blood loss, a reduction in the body's ability to produce new red blood cells, or an illness that leads to increased destruction of red blood cells.

Who is most at risk for anemia? ›

Many people are at risk for anemia because of poor diet, intestinal disorders, chronic diseases, infections, and other conditions. Women who are menstruating or pregnant and people with chronic medical conditions are most at risk for this disease. The risk of anemia increases as people grow older.

What happens if anemia is not treated? ›

If left untreated, the symptoms of anemia will become worse over time. Some of these symptoms are: fatigue, weakness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath or lightheadness. If anemia is not treated, the heart continues to pump harder to get oxygen through the body.

What cancers cause low blood count? ›

Cancers that affect the blood and bone marrow can also lower the count. These types of cancers include leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma.

What causes iron levels to drop? ›

Common causes of iron deficiency include not getting enough iron in your diet, chronic blood loss, pregnancy and vigorous exercise. Some people become iron deficient if they are unable to absorb iron. Iron deficiency can be treated by adding iron-rich foods to the diet.

What are the stages of anemia? ›

This occurs in three stages:
  • First stage: Iron stores are depleted. ...
  • Second stage: When iron stores are low, the normal process of making red blood cells is altered. ...
  • Third stage: Iron-deficiency anemia develops because there isn't enough iron to make hemoglobin for red blood cells.
21 Apr 2022

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