Anemia is a very common blood disorder that can cause you to feel rundown, lightheaded, and short of breath. Anemia affects people of all ages.
Anemia also can affect people with serious health conditions, such as cancer and kidney failure.
Anemia is treatable. Talk to your primary care provider if you or a loved one may have anemia.
What is anemia?
Anemia is when your body doesn’t have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to tissues and muscles.
There are different types of anemia:
Anemia of chronic disease
Anemia due to bone marrow disease
Sickle cell anemia
There are many symptoms of anemia. However, many of these can also be a symptom of another condition, so it is important to see your healthcare provider for tests. Some symptoms of anemia are:
- Pale or yellowish skin
- Irregular heartbeat
- Trouble catching your breath
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Cold hands and feet
- Chest pain (call 911 and go to the emergency room right away if you are having unusual chest pain)
Diagnosing and treating anemia
It is important to see your provider if you are having symptoms of anemia.
Learn if you have a higher risk for having anemia.
Find out what to expect during your visit to the provider, including diagnosing anemia and treatment options.
The following factors put you at higher risk for anemia:
- Eating a diet that doesn’t include enough iron, Vitamin B-12 and folate
- Intestinal disorders such as Crohn’s disease and celiac disease
- Bleeding into the intestinal tract
- Heavy menstruation (having your period)
- Pregnancy without taking folic acid
- Chronic conditions such as cancer or kidney failure
- Family history of anemia
- Being over 65 years old
See your primary provider if you are having symptoms of anemia. The provider will do a physical exam and ask about your family history.
Your provider also may order blood tests. The blood tests will tell your provider if you don’t have enough red blood cells or hemoglobin.
Your provider may order other tests to find out if your anemia is a result of another condition.
Treatment for anemia depends on the anemia type. Here are types of anemia problems and their treatments:
- Iron deficiency: Taking iron supplements and changing your eating habits
- Vitamin deficiency: Taking supplements and possibly having B-12 shots
- Anemia of chronic disease: No specific treatment. Your healthcare provider will focus on treating the disease.
- Aplastic anemia: Blood transfusions or a bone marrow transplant
- Anemia due to bone marrow disease: Medication, chemotherapy or a bone marrow transplant
- Hemolytic anemias: Changing or not taking certain medications, treating any infections or taking medication that will suppress your immune system
- Sickle cell anemia: There are many possible treatments, including oxygen, medications, increase in fluids, blood transfusions, folic acid supplements, antibiotics and a bone marrow transplant.
- Thalassemia: Blood transfusion, folic acid supplements, medications, stem cell transplant or removing your spleen.