Anemia is a common blood disorder in which a person’s red blood cell count is lower than normal, which means less oxygen than normal is being transported through the circulatory system to the body’s tissues and organs.
Anemia can occur either because the body makes too few red blood cells, or because the body loses or destroys them faster than it makes new red blood cells. There are many types of anemia, some of which are mild, and others that can be serious or even life-threatening. In addition, anemia can be a temporary or long-term condition.
Initially, a person with anemia may not notice that anything is wrong. As the condition worsens, however, so do symptoms. Fatigue is the primary symptom of most types of anemia, but the condition also can cause other symptoms like:
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular heartbeat
- Weakness or dizziness
- Cognitive problems
- Numbness or coldness in the arms and legs
- Pale skin
Types of Anemia
The most common types include the following:
- Iron-deficiency anemia affects one in five women, nearly half of all pregnant women and about 3% of men in the United States.
- Vitamin-deficiency anemia can result from a diet that is deficient in key nutrients—especially folate and vitamin B12, which are needed to produce an adequate amount of red blood cells.
- Blood loss anemia can be caused by gastrointestinal conditions like ulcers or gastritis (inflammation of the stomach), or by overusing certain over-the-counter oral pain medications or certain anticoagulant medications that can cause or aggravate ulcers or gastritis. Very frequent and heavy periods also can sometimes cause anemia.
- Aplastic anemia: This life-threatening type of anemia results from a decline in the bone marrow’s ability to produce red blood cells. The condition is typically caused by radiation therapy, chemotherapy, pregnancy or lupus.
- Anemia resulting from chronic disease: Certain diseases like cancer, bone marrow disease, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic inflammatory diseases can reduce red blood cell production.
Your chances of developing anemia are greater if you have any of the following conditions:
- Alcohol abuse: Excessive alcohol consumption can interfere with red blood cell production.
- Diabetes: This chronic condition also can reduce blood cell production.
- Family history: If anemia runs in your family, you are at greater risk.
- Pregnancy increases a woman’s risk for developing iron-deficiency anemia.
- Vegetarian/vegan diet: If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, make sure you get sufficient iron to support red blood cell production.
If you have symptoms of anemia or suspect you may have the condition, see your physician. Even if your anemia is not severe, you can improve your quality of life by treating this common blood disorder.