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.

Causes

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, certain diseases, medications, and poor nutrition. Women and people with chronic diseases are most at risk for anemia.

Symptoms

The symptoms of anemia may resemble other blood disorders or medical problems. 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.

Types

There are several different types of anemia, each with a specific cause and treatment:

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 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

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.

Medical Reviewer: [Kelly Gaskin, RN, MSN, CPNP, Sara Foster, RN, MPH] Last Annual Review Date: 2009-09-13T00:00:00-06:00 Copyright: © 2000-2010 The StayWell Company, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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