Anemia is a low level of healthy red blood cells (RBCs). RBCs carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. When red blood cells are low, the body does not get enough oxygen.
There are several specific types of anemia, including:
Red Blood Cells
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The main causes of anemia are:
Anemia is more common in:
Factors that may increase your chances of anemia include:
Symptoms of anemia may include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your bodily fluids, waste products and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:
Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Options include:
You may be told to make changes to your diet. The diet may include foods rich in iron, vitamin C, vitamin B12, and folate. Vitamins or iron supplements may be added.
To help treat your anemia or your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe:
A blood transfusion delivers blood cells from healthy donor blood.
This procedure places healthy bone marrow or stem cells in the body. The goal is for the new tissue to produce healthy blood cells. This procedure carries risk. It is only done in severe cases of anemia.
Critical bleeding may be treated with surgery. In cases of very high RBC destruction, your spleen may need to be surgically removed.
Most inherited forms of anemia cannot be prevented. But the following steps may be taken to prevent certain types of anemia:
Iron Disorders Institute
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Anemia—differential diagnosis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T240897/Anemia-differential-diagnosis. Updated January 21, 2016. Accessed September 27, 2016.
Guralnik JM, Eisenstaedt RS, et al. Prevalence of anemia in persons 65 years and older in the United States: evidence for a high rate of unexplained anemia. Blood. 2004;104:2263-2268.
Nissenson AR, Goodnough LT, et al. Anemia: not just an innocent bystander? Arch Intern Med. 2003;163:1400-1404.
What is anemia? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/anemia/anemia_whatis.html. Updated May 18, 2012. Accessed September 23, 2015.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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