When to see a doctor
- Your body doesn't make enough red blood cells
- Bleeding causes you to lose red blood cells more quickly than they can be replaced
- Your body destroys red blood cells
What red blood cells do
Causes of anemia
- Iron deficiency anemia. This most common type of anemia is caused by a shortage of iron in your body. Your bone marrow needs iron to make hemoglobin. Without adequate iron, your body can't produce enough hemoglobin for red blood cells.
- Vitamin deficiency anemia. Besides iron, your body needs folate and vitamin B-12 to produce enough healthy red blood cells. A diet lacking in these and other key nutrients can cause decreased red blood cell production.
- Anemia of inflammation. Certain diseases — such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, Crohn's disease and other acute or chronic inflammatory diseases — can interfere with the production of red blood cells.
- Aplastic anemia. This rare, life-threatening anemia occurs when your body doesn't produce enough red blood cells. Causes of aplastic anemia include infections, certain medicines, autoimmune diseases and exposure to toxic chemicals.
- Anemias associated with bone marrow disease. A variety of diseases, such as leukemia and myelofibrosis, can cause anemia by affecting blood production in your bone marrow. The effects of these types of cancer and cancer-like disorders vary from mild to life-threatening.
- Hemolytic anemias. This group of anemias develops when red blood cells are destroyed faster than bone marrow can replace them. Certain blood diseases increase red blood cell destruction. You can inherit a hemolytic anemia, or you can develop it later in life.
- Sickle cell anemia. This inherited and sometimes serious condition is a hemolytic anemia. It's caused by a defective form of hemoglobin that forces red blood cells to assume an abnormal crescent (sickle) shape. These irregular blood cells die prematurely, resulting in a chronic shortage of red blood cells.
- A diet lacking in certain vitamins and minerals. A diet consistently low in iron, vitamin B-12 and folate increases your risk of anemia.
- Intestinal disorders. Having an intestinal disorder that affects the absorption of nutrients in your small intestine — such as Crohn's disease and celiac disease — puts you at risk of anemia.
- Menstruation. In general, women who haven't had menopause have a greater risk of iron deficiency anemia than do men and postmenopausal women. Menstruation causes the loss of red blood cells.
- Pregnancy. If you're pregnant and aren't taking a multivitamin with folic acid and iron, you're at an increased risk of anemia.
- Chronic conditions. If you have cancer, kidney failure, diabetes or another chronic condition, you could be at risk of anemia of chronic disease. These conditions can lead to a shortage of red blood cells.
- Family history. If your family has a history of an inherited anemia, such as sickle cell anemia, you also might be at increased risk of the condition.
- Other factors. A history of certain infections, blood diseases and autoimmune disorders increases your risk of anemia. Alcoholism, exposure to toxic chemicals, and the use of some medications can affect red blood cell production and lead to anemia.
- Age. People over age 65 are at increased risk of anemia.
- Severe fatigue. Severe anemia can make you so tired that you can't complete everyday tasks.
- Pregnancy complications. Pregnant women with folate deficiency anemia may be more likely to have complications, such as premature birth.
- Heart problems. Anemia can lead to a rapid or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). When you're anemic your heart must pump more blood to make up for the lack of oxygen in the blood. This can lead to an enlarged heart or heart failure.
- Death. Some inherited anemias, such as sickle cell anemia, can lead to life-threatening complications. Losing a lot of blood quickly results in acute, severe anemia and can be fatal.
- Iron. Iron-rich foods include beef and other meats, beans, lentils, iron-fortified cereals, dark green leafy vegetables, and dried fruit.
- Folate. This nutrient, and its synthetic form folic acid, can be found in fruits and fruit juices, dark green leafy vegetables, green peas, kidney beans, peanuts, and enriched grain products, such as bread, cereal, pasta and rice.
- Vitamin B-12. Foods rich in vitamin B-12 include meat, dairy products, and fortified cereal and soy products.
- Vitamin C. Foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits and juices, peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, melons and strawberries. These also help increase iron absorption.
frequently asked questions
Is anemia a hereditary condition?
Yes, anemia can be caused by inherited diseases. Depending on the degree of the genetic disease, hereditary anemia can range from moderate to severe. Anemia can be caused by hereditary diseases that interfere with the production of hemoglobin.
What are the health risks of anemia?
Reduced oxygen levels in the body tissues are caused by low hemoglobin levels in the blood. This can lead to hypoxia, a condition in which the body's oxygen levels are insufficient to operate correctly.
How is anemia treated in children?
It is critical to address the source of anemia in children. In the case of iron deficiency anemia, this may involve adopting new food choices and maybe prescribing an iron supplement if your healthcare practitioner believes it is necessary. Iron supplements for children are available in both liquid and pill forms.
What is a healthy level of iron in the body?
Iron is mostly stored in your body’s red blood cells and muscles. You should have around 3000 mg of iron in your body at any one time.