Anemia is a condition in which you lack enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your body's tissues. Anemia, also known 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 range from mild to severe. In most cases, anemia has more than one cause. See your doctor if you suspect you have anemia. It can be a warning sign of a serious condition.
Treatments for anemia, which depend on the cause, range from taking dietary supplements to medical procedures. You may be able to prevent some types of anemia by eating a healthy, varied diet.
- aplastic anemia
- iron deficiency anemia
- Sickle cell anemia
- vitamin deficiency anemia
Signs and symptoms of anemia vary depending on the cause and severity of the anemia. Depending on the causes of your anemia, you may not have any symptoms.
Signs and symptoms, if they occur, may include:
- Pale or yellowish skin
- Irregular heartbeats
- shortness of breath
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- chest pain
- Cold hands and feet
Anemia can be so mild at first that you don't notice it. But the symptoms worsen as the anemia worsens.
When to the doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you feel tired and don't know why.
Fatigue has many other causes besides anemia. So don't assume that if you are tired you must be anemic. Some people find that their hemoglobin levels are low, indicating anemia, when they donate blood. If you are told you cannot donate because of low hemoglobin, make an appointment with your doctor.
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Anemia can be due to a condition that is present at birth (congenital) or it can be due to a condition you develop (acquired). Anemia occurs when your blood does not contain enough red blood cells.
This can happen when:
- Your body does not produce enough red blood cells
- Bleeding causes you to lose red blood cells faster than they can be replaced
- Your body destroys red blood cells
What do red blood cells do
Your body makes three types of blood cells — white blood cells to fight infection, platelets to help blood clot, and red blood cells to carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body and carbon dioxide from your body back to your lungs.
Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, an iron-rich protein that gives blood its red color. Hemoglobin allows red blood cells to carry oxygen from your lungs to all parts of your body and carry carbon dioxide from other parts of the body to your lungs for exhalation.
Most blood cells, including red blood cells, are regularly made in your bone marrow — a spongy material found in the cavities of many of your large bones. In order to produce hemoglobin and red blood cells, your body needs iron, vitamin B-12, folic acid, and other nutrients from the food 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 lack of iron in your body. Your bone marrow needs iron to make hemoglobin. Without enough iron, your body can't make enough hemoglobin for red blood cells.
Without iron supplementation, this type of anemia occurs in many pregnant women. It is also caused by blood loss, such as heavy menstrual bleeding; an ulcer in the stomach or small intestine; cancer of the colon; and regular use of some pain relievers available without a prescription, particularly aspirin, which can cause inflammation of the stomach lining, leading to blood loss. Determining the source of the iron deficiency is important to prevent the anemia from recurring.
- vitamin deficiency anemia.In addition to iron, your body needs folic acid and vitamin B-12 to produce enough healthy red blood cells. A diet lacking in these and other important nutrients can lead to decreased red blood cell production. Some people who get enough B-12 cannot 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 conditions - can affect red blood cell production.
- aplastic anemia.This rare, life-threatening anemia occurs when your body doesn't make enough red blood cells. Causes of aplastic anemia include infections, certain medications, autoimmune disorders, and exposure to toxic chemicals.
- Anemia 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 cancers and cancer-like diseases vary from mild to life-threatening.
- Hemolytic anemias.This group of anemias develops when red blood cells are destroyed faster than the bone marrow can replace them. Certain blood disorders increase the destruction of red blood cells. You can inherit hemolytic anemia or develop it later in life.
- Sickle cell anemia.This inherited and sometimes serious condition is haemolytic anemia. It is caused by a faulty shape of hemoglobin, which forces red blood cells to assume an abnormal sickle shape. These irregular blood cells die prematurely, resulting in a chronic shortage of red blood cells.
These factors put you at increased risk of anemia:
- A diet lacking in certain vitamins and minerals.A diet consistently low in iron, vitamin B-12, folic acid, and copper increases the risk of anemia.
- intestinal diseases.Having a gut condition that affects the absorption of nutrients in your small intestine — like Crohn's disease and celiac disease — puts you at risk of anemia.
- Menstruation.In general, women who have not had a menopause are at greater risk of iron deficiency anemia than men and postmenopausal women. Menstruation causes the loss of red blood cells.
- Pregnancy.Being pregnant and not taking a multivitamin containing folic acid and iron increases your risk of anemia.
chronic diseases.If you have cancer, kidney failure, or another chronic condition, you are at risk of chronic anemia. These conditions can lead to a shortage of red blood cells.
Slow, chronic loss of blood from an ulcer or other source in your body can deplete your body's iron stores, leading to iron deficiency anemia.
- family history.If there is a family history of anemia such as B. sickle cell anemia, there may also be an increased risk of the disease.
- other factors.A history of certain infections, blood disorders, and autoimmune disorders increases your risk of anemia. Alcoholism, exposure to toxic chemicals, and use of some medications can affect red blood cell production and lead to anemia.
- Alter.People over the age of 65 have an increased risk of anemia.
Left untreated, anemia can cause many health problems, such as:
- Extreme tiredness.Severe anemia can make you so tired that you can't do everyday tasks.
- pregnancy complications.Pregnant women with folate-deficiency anemia may be more likely to have complications, such as preterm birth.
- Heart problems.Anemia can cause a fast or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). When you are anemic, your heart pumps more blood to compensate for the lack of oxygen in the blood. This can lead to an enlarged heart or heart failure.
- Tod.Some inherited anemias, such as sickle cell anemia, can lead to life-threatening complications. Excessive blood loss quickly leads to acute, severe anemia and can be fatal. In older people, anemia is associated with an increased risk of death.
Many types of anemia cannot be prevented. But you can avoid iron deficiency anemia and vitamin deficiency anemia by consuming a diet that includes a variety of vitamins and minerals, including:
- Eisen.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, are found in fruit and fruit juices, dark green leafy vegetables, green peas, kidney beans, peanuts, and fortified grain products like bread, cereal, pasta, and rice.
- Vitamin B-12.Foods rich in vitamin B-12 include meat, dairy, and fortified grain 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 if a multivitamin supplement might help.
By Mayo Clinic staff
February 11, 2022
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.How does anemia make you feel? ›
If you have anemia, your body does not get enough oxygen-rich blood. The lack of oxygen can make you feel tired or weak. You may also have shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, or an irregular heartbeat.How serious is being anemic? ›
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 foods should I avoid with anemia? ›
Don't eat iron-rich foods with foods or beverages that block iron absorption. These include coffee or tea, eggs, foods high in oxalates, and foods high in calcium. Eat iron-rich foods with vitamin C-rich foods, such as oranges, tomatoes, or strawberries, to improve absorption.What are red flags with anemia? ›
Warning signs of anemia you shouldn't ignore
Persistent fatigue. Weakness. Dizziness. Shortness of breath.
First stage: Iron stores are depleted. In this stage, the supply of iron to make new hemoglobin and red blood cells is dwindling but hasn't yet affected your red blood cells. Second stage: When iron stores are low, the normal process of making red blood cells is altered.When is anemia an emergency? ›
Call Your Doctor About Anemia If:
Persistent fatigue, breathlessness, rapid heart rate, pale skin, or any other symptoms of anemia; seek emergency care for any trouble breathing or change in your heart beat.
Chest Pains and Palpitations
When there's a low level of oxygen in the blood, the heart works extra hard to compensate. This puts a lot of pressure on the heart, which can cause it to beat faster, irregularly, and experience pain. Untreated anemia can exacerbate underlying cardiovascular issues.
Not even your mental health is spared from anemia. Because symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, lack of energy, fatigue, racing heartbeat, and restlessness are so closely linked to depression and anxiety, they can sometimes be mistaken for these mental health concerns.What are the 3 main causes of anemia? ›
Your body needs iron to make hemoglobin. 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.
Iron-rich drinks include apple juice, apricot nectar, beef broth, beet juice, cocoa using natural cocoa powder, “green” smoothies, orange juice, pea protein smoothies, prune juice, tomato juice, and spinach juice.What does anemia fatigue feel like? ›
Feeling very tired is one of the most common symptoms of iron deficiency anemia. This symptom is also common in people who simply don't have enough iron, even if they haven't received a diagnosis of deficiency ( 2 , 3 ).
Iron-deficient people experience low energy levels and sudden weight gain because of an underactive thyroid gland.Can anemia be cancerous? ›
Why is anemia linked to cancer? While there are several types of anemia, iron deficiency anemia is the type that is most often linked to cancer. Iron deficiency anemia is caused by a lack of healthy red blood cells in the body. There are several cancers that can attack blood cells, causing anemia.Can anemia lead to 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 will happen if anemia is not treated? ›
Anemia if not treated for a long period can lead to serious complications. These include heart failure, severe weakness and poor immunity. Anemia is a medical condition in which the person does not have enough red blood cells or RBCs. The RBCs in the blood carry iron a specialized protein called hemoglobin.What vitamins help with anemia? ›
Both folate and vitamin B12 can cure and prevent megaloblastic anaemia. Riboflavin enhances the haematological response to iron, and its deficiency may account for a significant proportion of anaemia in many populations.What is the best exercise for anemic person? ›
Tips for Managing Anemia
Exercise – Research shows that endurance exercise like walking, swimming, biking, or jogging, can help anyone to have stronger muscles, a healthier heart, and more energy—including people with kidney disease.
It's often done as part of a routine checkup. This test measures many different parts of your blood, including red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Red blood cell levels that are higher or lower than normal could be a sign of anemia.
Skin Tone and Brittle Nails
Pale skin in an anemic person is caused by the lack of hemoglobin in red blood cells and a lack of red blood cells in general. As the numbers of red blood cells become restricted, not enough reach the surface of the skin.
Headaches, dizziness and lightheadedness can all be symptoms of anemia caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain. For some people, this may even lead to fainting.What drains iron from your body? ›
Iron is lost from the body through sweat, shedding intestinal cells, and blood loss. About one third of the world's population is iron deficient. Menstruating women are at greater risk than men and postmenopausal women of iron deficiency.What level of anemia requires hospitalization? ›
But 7 to 8 g/dL is a safe level. Your doctor should use just enough blood to get to this level. Often, one unit of blood is enough. Some doctors believe that hospital patients who fall below 10 g/dL should get a blood transfusion.Do they hospitalize you for anemia? ›
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.How do I know if my anemia is getting worse? ›
But as the anemia gets worse, you may develop a blue color to the whites of your eyes, light-headedness when you go to stand up and you may look pale or experience shortness of breath. To find out if you've got iron-deficiency anemia. See your doctor; your doctor will start with a Complete Blood Count or CBC test.Where is anemia pain located? ›
Severe anemia may cause painful lower leg cramps during exercise, shortness of breath, and chest pain, especially if people already have impaired blood circulation in the legs or certain types of lung or heart disease.Do anemic people feel sick? ›
Anemia occurs when there aren't enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to your body's organs. As a result, it's common to feel cold and symptoms of tiredness or weakness. There are many different types of anemia, but the most common type is iron-deficiency anemia.Does anemia make you thirsty? ›
Mild anemia often causes fatigue, weakness, and paleness. In addition to these symptoms, more severe anemia may cause faintness, dizziness, increased thirst, sweating, a weak and rapid pulse, and rapid breathing.What do you crave when your iron is low? ›
Doctors use the term "pica" to describe craving and chewing substances that have no nutritional value — such as ice, clay, soil or paper. Craving and chewing ice (pagophagia) is often associated with iron deficiency, with or without anemia, although the reason is unclear.Can anemia be cured? ›
If you have been diagnosed with acute or chronic anemia, know that it can be corrected. A variety of treatments are used to treat anemia, including blood transfusions to replace very low red blood cells (RBCs) from blood loss. Sometimes anemia is treated with vitamin replacement so the body can make its own RBCs.
Sustained stress is another cause of anaemia. Excessive stress hinders the manufacture of hydrochloric acid in your body, which is very important for the integration of iron and proteins. The deficiency of iron is equal to lack of haemoglobin and thus, anaemia.How do you cure anemia? ›
- Iron supplements can increase the iron in your body. This may help treat iron-deficiency anemia. ...
- Vitamin B12 supplements or shots can help treat vitamin B12–deficiency anemia.
Iron-deficient people experience low energy levels and sudden weight gain because of an underactive thyroid gland.How long does it take to recover from anemia? ›
Iron deficiency can't be corrected overnight. You may need to take iron supplements for several months or longer to replenish your iron reserves. Generally, you'll start to feel better after a week or so of treatment. Ask your doctor when to have your blood rechecked to measure your iron levels.What level of anemia is severe? ›
Mild: Hemoglobin 10.0 g/dL to lower limit of normal. Moderate: Hemoglobin 8.0 to 10.0 g/dL. Severe: Hemoglobin 6.5 to 7.9 g/dL Life-threatening: Hemoglobin less than 6.5 g/dL.Do any cancers cause anemia? ›
The cancers most closely associated with anemia are: Cancers that involve the bone marrow. Blood cancers like leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma interfere with or destroy the marrow's ability to make healthy blood cells. Other cancers that spread to the bone marrow can also cause anemia.What blood cancers cause anemia? ›
Leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma damage bone marrow. Also, cancer that spreads to the bone or bone marrow may crowd out healthy red blood cells.Do most cancers cause anemia? ›
Anemia is a common condition of cancer patients. This is because cancers cause inflammation that decrease red blood cell production. In addition, many chemotherapies are myelosuppressive, meaning they slow down the production of new blood cells by the bone marrow. In other cases, anemia is caused by kidney disease.