Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells provide oxygen to body tissues.
Different types of anemia include:
Anemia due to vitamin B12 deficiency
Anemia due to folate (folic acid) deficiency
Anemia due to iron deficiency
Anemia of chronic disease
Idiopathic aplastic anemia
Sickle cell anemia
Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia.
What are the causes for Anemia?
Although many parts of the body help make red blood cells, most of the work is done in the bone marrow. Bone marrow is the soft tissue in the center of bones that helps form all blood cells.
Healthy red blood cells last between 90 and 120 days. Parts of your body then remove old blood cells. A hormone called erythropoietin (epo) made in your kidneys signals your bone marrow to make more red blood cells.
Hemoglobin is the oxygen-carrying protein inside red blood cells. It gives red blood cells their color. People with anemia do not have enough hemoglobin.
The body needs certain vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to make enough red blood cells. Iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid are three of the most important ones. The body may not have enough of these nutrients due to:
Changes in the lining of the stomach or intestines that affect how well nutrients are absorbed (for example, celiac disease)
Surgery that removes part of the stomach or intestines
Possible causes of anemia include:
Vitamin B12 deficiency
Destruction of red blood cells earlier than normal (which may be caused by immune system problems)
Long-term (chronic) diseases such as chronic kidney disease, cancer, ulcerative colitis, or rheumatoid arthritis
Some forms of anemia, such as thalassemia or sickle cell anemia, which can be inherited
Problems with bone marrow such as lymphoma, leukemia, myelodysplasia, multiple myeloma, or aplastic anemia
Slow blood loss (for example, from heavy menstrual periods or stomach ulcers)
Sudden heavy blood loss
What are the symptoms for Anemia?
You may have no symptoms if the anemia is mild or if the problem develops slowly. Symptoms that may occur first include:
Feeling weak or tired more often than usual, or with exercise
Problems concentrating or thinking
Loss of appetite
Numbness and tingling of hands and feet
If the anemia gets worse, symptoms may include:
Blue color to the whites of the eyes
Desire to eat ice or other non-food things (pica syndrome)
Lightheadedness when you stand up
Pale skin color
Shortness of breath with mild activity or even at rest
Sore or inflamed tongue
Abnormal or increased menstrual bleeding in females
Loss of sexual desire in men
What are the current treatments for Anemia?
Treatment should be directed at the cause of the anemia, and may include:
Corticosteroids or other medicines that suppress the immune system
Erythropoietin, a medicine that helps your bone marrow make more blood cells
Supplements of iron, vitamin B12, folic acid, or other vitamins and minerals
What are the possible complications for Anemia?
Severe anemia can cause low oxygen levels in vital organs such as the heart, and can lead to heart failure.
When should I contact a medical professional for Anemia?
Call your provider if you have any symptoms of anemia or unusual bleeding.
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Lin JC. Approach to anemia in the adult and child. In: Hoffman R, Benz EJ, Silberstein LE, et al, eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 34.
Means RT. Approach to the anemias. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 149.