Anemia Symptoms & Causes
Jan 15, 2014
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. Loss of blood is the most common cause of anemia. Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can range from mild to severe.
Anemia symptoms vary depending on the cause of your anemia but may include:
- Pale skin
- A fast or irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Cognitive problems
- Cold hands and feet
Initially, anemia can be so mild it goes unnoticed. But symptoms increase as anemia worsens.
Causes of common types of anemia
Common types of anemia and their causes include:
When is it time to see a doctor??
- Iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency anemia is caused by a shortage of the element 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. This type of anemia is often caused by blood loss, such as from heavy menstrual bleeding, an ulcer, cancer, a polyp somewhere in your digestive system, and prolonged use of aspirin or drugs known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
- Vitamin deficiency anemias. In addition to iron, your body needs folate and vitamin B-12 to produce sufficient numbers of healthy red blood cells. A diet lacking in these and other key nutrients can cause decreased red blood cell production. Additionally, some people may eat enough B-12, but their bodies aren't able to process the vitamin. This can lead to vitamin deficiency anemia.
- Anemia of chronic disease. Certain chronic diseases — such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease and other chronic inflammatory diseases — can interfere with the production of red blood cells, resulting in chronic anemia. Kidney failure also can cause anemia.
- Aplastic anemia. This very rare life-threatening anemia is caused by a decrease in the bone marrow's ability to produce red blood cells. Causes of aplastic anemia include infections, drugs and autoimmune diseases.
- Anemias associated with bone marrow disease. A variety of diseases, such as leukemia and myelodysplasia, can cause anemia by affecting blood production in your bone marrow. The effects of these types of cancer and cancer-like disorders vary from a mild alteration in blood production to a complete life-threatening shutdown of the blood-making process. Other cancers of the blood or bone marrow — such as multiple myeloma, myeloproliferative disorders and lymphoma — also can cause anemia.
- Hemolytic anemias. This group of anemias develops when red blood cells are destroyed faster than bone marrow can replace them. Certain blood diseases can cause increased red blood cell destruction. Hemolytic anemias can be inherited, or you can develop them later in life.
- Sickle cell anemia. This inherited and sometimes serious anemia is caused by a defective form of hemoglobin that forces red blood cells to assume an abnormal crescent (sickle) shape. These irregular-shaped red blood cells die prematurely, resulting in a chronic shortage of red blood cells.
- Other anemias. There are several other rarer forms of anemia, such as thalassemia and anemias caused by defective hemoglobin.
Make an appointment with your doctor if you're feeling fatigued for unexplained reasons. Some anemias, such as iron deficiency anemia, are common. Fatigue has many causes besides anemia, so don't assume that if you're tired you must be anemic.
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.