Anemia

Overview

Anemia is a blood disorder in which there are not enough red blood cells to deliver oxygen throughout the body. While iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia, there are many conditions that can lead to a loss of red blood cells. Because the symptoms of anemia are often nonspecific, it can go undiagnosed for a long time. Although most cases of anemia are mild, some forms can be severe and result in serious health issues if left untreated. Treatment for anemia depends on the cause, which is why people showing signs of anemia should talk to a doctor.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Common symptoms of anemia include tiredness, weakness, shortness of breath, fast or irregular heartbeat, headache, cold hands and feet, and pale skin. In children, symptoms may also include slow cognitive and social development. The symptoms of anemia are often general and may be attributed to other conditions, making it difficult to diagnose. If untreated, anemia can lead to serious problems, such as debilitating fatigue, heart problems, or death.

Doctors can diagnose anemia by performing a physical exam and a complete blood count (CBC) to measure the number of red blood cells in the body, hemoglobin and hematocrit levels, and the size, shape, and color of red blood cells. Other procedures, such as bone marrow testing, may be needed if the anemia is caused by a condition such as an ulcer or cancer.

Causes

Anemia is caused by low production of red blood cells, the destruction of red blood cells, or the loss of red blood cells in the body. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen throughout the body. When the body doesn’t have enough red blood cells or hemoglobin, it doesn’t get the oxygen it needs. Some forms of anemia are inherited, such as sickle cell anemia and thalassemia, which cause the body to destroy red blood cells. Other forms are caused by chronic illnesses that make it difficult for the body to produce enough red blood cells, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, Crohn’s disease, ulcers, and kidney disease.

The most common cause of anemia is insufficient iron, which the body needs to make hemoglobin. Iron deficiency can be caused by a diet lacking in iron, heavy periods, polyps in the digestive tract, and overuse of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Anemia can also be caused by a lack of other vitamins, such as folate and Vitamin B-12, which promote red blood cell production. Other factors that can increase the risk of anemia include intestinal disorders that interfere with the absorption of nutrients, blood loss due to surgery or injury, pregnancy, a history of blood diseases, autoimmune disorders, or alcoholism. Continue reading for Prevention and Treatment Information . . .

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