Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells provide oxygen to body tissues.
Other types of anemia include:
Although many parts of the body help make red blood cells, most of the work is done in the bone marrow. Bone marrow is the soft tissue in the center of bones that helps form all blood cells.
Most often healthy red blood cells last between 90 and 120 days. Parts of your body then remove old blood cells. A hormone called erythropoietin (epo) made in your kidneys signals your bone marrow to make more red blood cells.
Hemoglobin is the oxygen-carrying protein inside red blood cells. It gives red blood cells their red color. People with anemia do not have enough hemoglobin.
The body needs certain vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to make enough red blood cells. Iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid are three of the most important ones. The body may not have enough of these nutrients because:
Possible causes of anemia include:
You may have no symptoms if the anemia is mild. If the problem develops slowly, symptoms that may occur first include:
If the anemia gets worse, symptoms may include:
Some types of anemia may have other symptoms.
The doctor will perform a physical examination, and may find:
Some types of anemia may cause other findings on a physical exam.
Blood tests used to diagnose some common types of anemia may include:
Other tests may be done to find medical problems that can cause anemia.
Treatment should be directed at the cause of the anemia, and may include:
Severe anemia can cause low oxygen levels in vital organs such as the heart, and can lead to a heart attack.
Call your health care provider if you have any symptoms of anemia, or any unusual bleeding.
Bunn HF. Approach to the anemias. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 161.
Reviewed By: Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.