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Disease: Anemia Anemia
Category: Blood diseases & tumors
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Disease Definition:

If a person has anemia, they probably feel tired a lot due to the deficiency of red blood cells that carry oxygen to the tissues.

Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can be mild or severe. There are many kinds of anemia, each with its own cause.

Anemia might be a sign of serious illnesses, so the doctor should be consulted in case a person suspects that they have anemia.
Some types of anemia could be prevented by eating a healthy, varied diet, and treatments range from taking supplements to undergoing medical procedures.

Work Group:

Prepared by: Scientific Section

Symptoms, Causes


The signs and symptoms of anemia may include:


  • Pale skin
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Chest pain
  • A fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Exhaustion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cognitive problems

Sometimes, anemia is not noticed because of its mildness, but as it worsens, the signs and symptoms increase.
There are certain forms of anemia that are common, such as iron deficiency anemia. If a person's at risk of anemia and feels exhausted for unexplained reasons, they should consult a doctor. But exhaustion has many causes besides anemia, so a person shouldn't assume that they're anemic just because they're exhausted.

If a person is told that they can’t donate blood because of low hemoglobin, they should see a doctor, because although this problem may be a temporary one and remedied by eating more foods rich with iron or multivitamins containing iron, it may also be a warning sign of blood loss in the body that may cause the person to be deficient in iron.


Blood consists of plasma and cells. There are three kinds of blood cells that float within this plasma:


  • Platelets, which help the blood clot after a cut.
  • White blood cells (leukocytes) that fight infection.
  • Red blood cells (erythrocytes), which carry oxygen to the brain and other organs and tissues from the lungs via the bloodstream. These blood cells contain hemoglobin, which is a red protein that is rich with iron and gives blood its red color. Hemoglobin enables red blood cells to carry carbon dioxide from other parts of the body to the lungs, so that it can be exhaled, and it also enables red blood cells to carry oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body. The body needs a supply of oxygenated blood in order to function, which helps to give the body its energy and a healthy glow to the skin.

The bone marrow is a red, spongy material found within the cavities of many of the large bones, and it produces most of the blood cells, including red blood cells. However, the body needs protein, vitamins, iron and other minerals from foods in order to produce hemoglobin and red blood cells.

When someone is anemic, their body produces too few healthy red blood cells, loses too many of them or destroys them faster than they can be replaced. In some cases, the cause of anemia cannot be found.

Some of the common types of anemia are:

Iron deficiency anemia:
The cause of this type of anemia is the shortage of iron in the body, which the bone marrow needs to make hemoglobin. Without enough iron, the body can’t produce adequate hemoglobin for red blood cells, resulting in iron deficiency anemia.

Anemia of chronic disease:
Some chronic diseases can interfere with the production of red blood cells, resulting in chronic anemia. These chronic diseases include cancer, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, HIV/AIDS and other chronic inflammatory diseases, as well as kidney failure.

Vitamin deficiency anemia:
A diet lacking in folate, vitamin B12 and other key nutrients, as well as iron can cause decreased red blood cell production. There are also some people who are unable to effectively absorb vitamin B12.

Anemia associated with bone marrow disease:
Some diseases can cause anemia by affecting blood production in the bone marrow, such as leukemia and myelodysplasia, a preleukemic condition. The effects of these disorders vary from only a mild alteration in blood production to a complete and life-threatening shutdown of the blood-making process. Other types of cancers of the bone marrow or blood also cause anemia, such as myeloproliferative disorders, lymphoma and multiple myeloma.

Aplastic anemia:
Mostly, the cause of aplastic anemia is unknown, though it’s believed to be an autoimmune disease, which causes a decrease in the bone marrow’s ability to produce red blood cells, platelets and white blood cells. Aplasic anemia is a life-threatening, though rare type of anemia.

Sickle cell anemia:
This type of anemia is caused by a defective form of hemoglobin that forces red blood cells to assume an abnormal sickle-shape. These irregular-shaped red blood cells die prematurely resulting in a chronic shortage of red blood cells. This type of anemia is inherited and sometimes serious, and usually affects people of African, Arabic and Mediterranean descent.

Hemolytic anemia:
This group of anemia is developed when red blood cells are destroyed faster than bone marrow can replace them. This happens when autoimmune disorders cause the body to produce antibodies that destroy red blood cells prematurely. Certain blood diseases cause increased red blood cell destruction. There are also certain medications that break down red blood cells, such as some antibiotics that are used in treating infections.

Other types of anemia:
Some of the other forms of anemia that are rarer include thalassemia, and anemias caused by defective hemoglobin.



Anemia can cause several complications if it is left untreated, including:

Nerve Damage:
A decreased amount of vitamin B12 affects nerve function, as well as red blood cell production.

Severe Fatigue:
In a severe case of anemia a person may be so exhausted that they can’t complete everyday tasks, work or play.

Impaired Mental Function:
A person's mental abilities may be affected by a shortage of vitamin B12.

Heart Problems:
If a person is anemic, their heart will pump more blood to make up for the lack of oxygen in the blood. This can lead to congestive heart failure or arrhythmia, which is a rapid or irregular heartbeat.

Losing a lot of blood quickly can cause acute and severe anemia that could be fatal. Additionally, some types of inherited anemia can be serious and lead to life-threatening complications, such as sickle cell anemia.


Iron deficiency anemia:
This type of anemia is treated with iron supplements that a person takes for several months or longer. If loss of blood is the underlying cause of iron deficiency (other than from menstruation), then the source of the bleeding must be located and stopped, which may involve surgery.

Anemia of chronic disease:
In case the symptoms of this type of anemia become severe, a blood transfusion or injections of synthetic erythropoietin, which is a hormone normally produced by the kidneys, could help to ease fatigue and stimulate red blood cell production. But doctors usually focus on treating the underlying disease, because there’s no particular treatment for this type of anemia, and even iron supplements and vitamins don’t help.

Vitamin deficiency anemia:
Folic acid deficiency anemia is treated with folic acid supplements, while pernicious anemia is treated with lifetime injections of vitamin B12.

Anemia associated with bone marrow disease:
Simple medication, chemotherapy or bone marrow transplantation are some of the treatments available for these various diseases.

Aplastic anemia:
Blood transfusions could be included in the treatment for this type of anemia to boost levels of red blood cells. In case the bone marrow is diseased and can’t make healthy blood cells, the patient may need a bone marrow transplant, as well as immune-suppressing medications to lessen the immune system’s response and give a chance to the transplanted bone marrow to start functioning again.

Hemolytic anemia:
A person should avoid suspect medications, treat related infections and take drugs that suppress their immune system, which may be attacking the red blood cells, to manage hemolytic anemia. To help suppress the immune system’s attack on the red blood cells, the patient could take short courses of treatment with steroids, immune suppressant medications or gamma globulin.
The spleen is a small organ below the rib cage on the left side. There are certain kinds of hemolytic anemia that cause the spleen to become enlarged with damaged red blood cells. In this case, the spleen will have to be removed. Sometimes, the spleen contributes to hemolytic anemia by removing too many red blood cells. A blood transfusion or plasmapheresis, which is a type of blood filtering procedure, may be necessary, depending on the severity of anemia.

Sickle cell anemia:
The administration of oxygen, pain-relieving drugs and oral as well as intravenous fluids can be included in the treatment of this type of anemia to help reduce pain and prevent complications. Blood transfusions, folic acid supplements and antibiotics are also commonly used. In certain circumstances a bone marrow transplant may be effective, or a cancer drug called hydroxyurea could be used in adults.


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