Anemia is a condition in which you don't have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your tissues. Having anemia may make you feel exhausted.
There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can range from mild to severe.
See your doctor if you suspect you have anemia, because anemia can be a sign of serious illnesses. Treatments for anemia range from taking supplements to undergoing medical procedures. You may be able to prevent some types of anemia by eating a healthy, varied diet.
Signs and symptoms vary depending on the cause of your anemia, but may include:
Initially, anemia can be so mild it goes unnoticed. But signs and symptoms increase as anemia worsens.
When to see a doctor
Some people learn that their hemoglobin is low, which indicates anemia, when they go to donate blood. Low hemoglobin may be a temporary problem remedied by eating more iron-rich foods or taking a multivitamin containing iron. However, it may also be a warning sign of blood loss in your body that may be causing you to be deficient in iron. If you're told that you can't donate blood because of low hemoglobin, make an appointment with your doctor.
Anemia occurs when your blood doesn't have enough red blood cells. This could result if:
What red blood cells do
Red blood cells contain hemoglobin — a red, iron-rich protein that gives blood its red color. Hemoglobin enables red blood cells to carry oxygen from your lungs to all parts of your body, and to carry carbon dioxide from other parts of the body to your lungs so that it can be exhaled.
Most blood cells, including red blood cells, are produced regularly in your bone marrow — a red, spongy material found within the cavities of many of your large bones. To produce hemoglobin and red blood cells, your body needs iron, vitamin B-12, folate and other nutrients from the foods you eat.
Causes of common types of anemia
These factors place you at increased risk of anemia:
Left untreated, anemia can cause numerous complications, such as:
Preparing for your appointment
Make an appointment with your family doctor or a general practitioner if you have prolonged fatigue or other signs or symptoms that worry you. If you're diagnosed with a type of anemia that requires more complex treatment, such as aplastic anemia or anemia caused by other diseases, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in blood disorders (hematologist).
Because appointments can be brief and there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your appointment. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For anemia, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
To diagnose anemia, your doctor may recommend:
Occasionally, it may be necessary to study a sample of your bone marrow to diagnose anemia.
Treatments and drugs
Anemia treatment depends on the cause:
Choose a vitamin-rich diet
Consider genetic counseling if you have a family history of anemia
Last Updated: 2011-02-19
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