Everything You Need to Know About Anemia: Symptoms, Treatment, & Prevention
Anemia is a condition in which the red blood cells or hemoglobin are less than normal. Hemoglobin is the protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to other organs and tissues. Anemia can be either acute (temporary) or chronic (long-term). It may also be classified as iron-deficiency anemia, vitamin B12 deficiency anemia, or another type.
People of all ages can develop anemia; older adults, people who have low iron stores, and people with diseases such as diabetes are at increased risk. Read on to learn more about anemia and its various types.
What does Anemia Feel Like?
The symptoms of anemia will depend on its type. Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia. People with this type of anemia may feel weak and tired and have trouble concentrating or remembering things. Some people may also have headaches and irritability and feel anxious or depressed. Anemia can also cause palpitations or a racing heartbeat, which can make a person feel like their heart is “skipping beats.”
Anemia can also cause visible changes in the skin. People with anemia may have pale skin and may bruise more easily. Pregnant women with anemia may experience abdominal cramping and feel generally unwell. Iron deficiency anemia can be diagnosed with a blood test called a complete blood count (CBC). The CBC measures the number of red blood cells, hemoglobin, hematocrit, and other aspects of blood that are affected by anemia.
Types of Anemia
There are a number of different types of anemia. Anemia can be caused by a deficiency in iron, vitamin B12, or folic acid. Each type of anemia can have different signs and symptoms, although there are certain general signs to watch for. Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia and can be caused by a diet low in iron or by heavy menstrual bleeding.
Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia is often caused by inadequate dietary intake or an autoimmune disease that affects the gut. Folic acid deficiency anemia is caused by an inadequate intake or high levels of certain drugs.
1. Iron-Deficiency Anemia
Iron is needed to make hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. An iron-deficiency anemia results when the body doesn't have enough iron to make sufficient quantities of hemoglobin. Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type and can affect all ages, genders, and ethnicity.
It's usually caused by a diet low in iron and/or heavy menstrual bleeding. In pregnant women, iron-deficiency anemia is a common complication.
2. B-12 Deficiency Anemia
B-12 deficiency anemia is less common. It happens when the body doesn't have enough vitamin B-12, which is needed to make red blood cells. It can be treated, and the sooner it is diagnosed, the sooner you can start feeling better. When to see a doctor: You should see a doctor if you think you have anemia.
Symptoms of Anemia
Feeling weak or tired: Anemia can lead to feeling tired and weak, even when you've had plenty of sleep and aren't doing anything strenuous. This tiredness can make it hard to complete daily tasks.
Difficulty concentrating or remembering things: Anemia can affect your concentration, making it harder to focus on and complete tasks. You may also have trouble remembering things, such as appointments or where you left your keys.
Headaches: A headache is a common symptom of anemia, especially in those with iron-deficiency anemia.
Pale skin: Anemia can cause your skin to appear paler and have a blue or grayish tint. This discoloration is called pallor and is caused by abnormally low hemoglobin levels. People with iron-deficiency anemia may notice their skin is particularly pale on their hands, feet, and eyelids.
Bruising easily: Anemia can cause blood to pool more readily under the skin, resulting in bruising more easily.
Feeling anxious or depressed: Feelings of anxiety or depression can accompany anemia. This is more common in people with iron-deficiency anemia.
Risk Factors of Anemia
- Age: Anemia is more common in older adults, who may have fewer iron stores and need to work harder to absorb iron from their diet.
- Sex: Women of childbearing age risk anemia due to menstrual blood loss and iron loss during pregnancy.
- Diet: Eating a diet low in iron, folic acid, or vitamin B12 can increase your risk of developing anemia.
- Weight: Being underweight or overweight can increase your risk of anemia.
- Pregnancy: Pregnant women are at greater risk for anemia due to increased blood volume and iron requirements.
- Drugs and other health conditions: Certain drugs and health conditions can increase your risk for anemia. Examples include diseases like diabetes and celiac disease, smoking, and excessive alcohol use.
Diagnosis of Anemia
If you've noticed the signs and symptoms of anemia, your healthcare provider can diagnose the condition with a blood test. A complete blood count (CBC) can tell your provider how much hemoglobin is in your blood, as well as how many red blood cells you have. This test can also help determine what type of anemia you might have since different deficiencies cause different types.
A complete blood count can help your healthcare provider rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms. It can also help determine if your anemia is mild, moderate, or severe, which will help your provider decide on the best treatment for you.
Treatment for Anemia
The treatment for anemia will depend on the type you have. Your provider may recommend lifestyle changes for mild or moderate anemia, such as eating foods high in iron or vitamin B12. In more severe cases of anemia, treatment may include a blood transfusion or vitamin B12 injections.
Prevention of Anemia
If you've been diagnosed with anemia, you can prevent a recurrence by eating a diet that includes high-iron foods. You should also avoid taking drugs that can make anemia worse. Increasing dietary iron may prevent a recurrence for people with anemia caused by low iron stores. Dietary changes alone may not be enough for those with vitamin B12 deficiency or folic acid deficiency.
Anemia is a serious condition that can have serious consequences if left untreated, so it's important to get checked out as soon as possible. Anemia can be mild or severe, and it can occur in all ages. The most common type of anemia is iron deficiency, followed by B vitamin deficiency.
Anemia is usually treatable, and a healthy lifestyle and diet can prevent it. If you feel that you have any of these symptoms, you should call your doctor.