Anemia: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Are you feeling especially tired and worn out lately? That seems to be pretty common. But it might not be just from working too much or dealing with excess stress. In fact, you might have too little oxygen reaching your vital organs, which can cause a variety of symptoms (including tiredness).

There are different types of anemia, which WebMD says is the most common blood disorder in the country affecting about 6-percent of the population. It can affect people of all ages in different ways. Let’s take a closer look at what anemia is and what to do about it…

What Does Anemic Mean?

In a nutshell, anemic means your red blood cell count is too low. As a result, there won’t be sufficient oxygen carried by hemoglobin (an important protein in red blood cells) to power your major organs.

WebMD says there are actually more than 400 types of anemia that may or may not be caused by blood loss, and can point to other underlying health issues. The symptoms can be mild enough to go unnoticed or can have a bigger impact on day-to-day life.

What Are Anemia Levels?

Anemia levels are different for men and women. In men, it’s typically defined as having a hemoglobin level of less than 13.5-grams/100-milliliters (mL). Meanwhile, in women, it says that anemic levels are considered 12-grams/100-ml or less.

Medicine Net says that normal hemoglobin levels for adult males are 14 to 18-grams per deciliter (dL). A deciliter is equivalent to 100-ml. It drops for men after middle age to 12.4 to 14.9-grams per dL. In contrast, normal levels for women are 12 to 16-grams per dL, which drops to 11.7 to 13.8-grams/dL after middle age. Newborns (that can be affected by anemia) should have 17 to 22-grams/dL.

Possible Causes of Anemia

Everyday Health outlines the common types of anemia with different causes. The most common type is iron-deficiency anemia, “which is the most common and widespread nutritional disorder in the world.” Anemia of chronic disease is the second most common form. It is caused by a long-term health condition (or treatment) impacting the body’s ability to produce red blood cells.

Furthermore, sickle cell anemia is an inherited form of the disorder that produces “a defective form of hemoglobin”, and can also be painful as it can block blood flow to limbs and organs.

Aplastic anemia is rarer and is due to bone marrow not producing enough red blood cells. There are only about 600 to 900-cases in the U.S. per year. It most often affects men and women between the ages of 20 to 25 and those over 60. Meanwhile, pernicious anemia is an autoimmune disorder characterized by antibodies that affect the absorption of vitamin B12.

Anemia Symptoms

Everyday Health explains that depending on the form of anemia you have, you might experience different symptoms that can get worse over time. However, it notes the most common red flag is weakness. Common symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include pale skin, shortness of breath, dizziness, cold hands/feet, brittle nails, and loss of appetite (which is mainly seen in younger patients).

Aplastic anemia can be marked by nausea and skin rashes, while sickle cell anemia can carry signs such as jaundice (yellowish skin) as well as “painful” swelling of hands and feet.

Further, pernicious anemia related to the lack of B12 can lead to tingling in the hands and feet, loss of balance, weakened bones, and even memory loss. In infants, a B12 deficiency can show up as poor reflexes, trouble feeding, and irritability. It may even cause growth issues if left untreated.

How Is Anemia Diagnosed?

Determining whether you’re anemic is usually a blend of a physical exam, some questions about family health history, and a blood test, notes Mayo Clinic. The doctor will order a complete blood count (CBC) to pinpoint the number of red blood cells in the sample as well as hemoglobin levels.

The source explains there will be another test to determine the size/shape of your red blood cells to see if there is anything unusual. If the doctor suspects anemia, there could be additional tests such as a bone marrow sample to pinpoint the cause.

Treatment Options for Anemia

The Mayo Clinic explains that treatment for anemia is specific to the cause. For example, iron deficiency anemia (and vitamin deficiency anemia) could be fixed by something as simple as taking supplements. This form could also be caused by loss of blood. If this is the case it needs to be pinpointed and surgical intervention might be needed.

Sickle cell anemia can involve administering oxygen, painkillers, or fluids through an IV. There’s also a drug called hydroxyurea for cancer that can also be effective for this form of anemia.

Meanwhile, aplastic anemia can be treated through blood transfusions or even a bone marrow transplant. While there’s no specific treatment for anemia of chronic disease, the source says an injection of synthetic hormones may help stimulate the production of red blood cells.

Can Anemia Be Prevented?

In some cases, anemia is not caused by factors you have control over such as aplastic anemia. However, Everyday Health says, “staying clear of insecticides, herbicides, organic solvents, paint removers, and other toxic chemicals may lower your risk.” With pernicious anemia, consuming higher amounts of vitamin B12 may help. You can achieve this through supplements/injections or by eating beef, eggs, and fortified cereal.

In cases of anemia from blood loss, a doctor may be able to pinpoint the reason for heavy menstruation or blood in the stool and address imbalances. While consuming more iron-rich foods (chicken, beans, and dark leafy veggies) and vitamin C (orange juice and strawberries) can help, the source warns against consuming coffee or tea with meals as they can impact your body’s ability to absorb iron. Calcium pills can also impact iron absorption.

Jeff Hayward

Jeff Hayward

Jeff has more than 15 years of experience writing professionally about health, travel and the arts among other subjects. He continuously looks to improve his own overall health through exercise, diet and mindfulness. He is also a proud stay-at-home dad that loves taking photographs both professionally and as a hobby.