Authored by Revere Health

Understanding Anemia

May 10, 2017 | Internal Medicine

Various tissues and organs in the body need oxygen to survive, and this oxygen is carried in the bloodstream by red blood cells. If there aren’t enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to all the necessary areas, though, a condition called anemia can develop.

There are many different types and causes of anemia, but each of them can lead to feelings of tiredness and weakness. The condition can be temporary or last for long periods, and its severity can vary widely. In some cases, anemia can be a sign of another more serious illness.

Symptoms and Complications

Symptoms of anemia can vary between cases, but they include:

  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Skin that’s pale or yellowish in color
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain or irregular heartbeat
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Coldness in hands or feet

These signs are often mild in the beginning stages of anemia, and may not be noticed until the condition gets worse. If anemia is untreated, it can lead to several complications:

  • Extreme fatigue, to the point where completing regular daily tasks is difficult or impossible
  • Heart problems, including rapid heartbeat, enlarged heart or heart failure
  • Pregnancy deficiency, including premature birth
  • Death, often from quick loss of blood

Causes and Risk Factors

Anemia is caused by lack of red blood cells that are able to carry oxygen. This occurs if the body doesn’t make enough red blood cells, destroys the cells itself, or loses cells so quickly through bleeding that they can’t be replaced fast enough.

Various types of anemia are characterized by their cause:

  • Iron deficiency anemia: The most common kind of anemia, iron deficiency anemia is a condition in which a shortage of iron stops the body from being able to produce hemoglobin, a vital protein for the lungs.
  • Vitamin deficiency anemia: The body needs vitamin B-12 and folate to produce enough red blood cells. In people who don’t get enough vitamins in the diet, or whose bodies don’t process B-12 correctly, this form of anemia can occur.
  • Chronic disease: Certain diseases, including cancer, AIDS, arthritis, kidney disease, Crohn’s disease and others, can interfere with red blood cell production and cause anemia.
  • Aplastic anemia: This is a rare, dangerous type of anemia in which the body itself doesn’t produce enough red blood cells.
  • Bone marrow disease: Various diseases related to bone marrow can affect blood production.
  • Hemolytic anemias: This is a group of diseases that develops when red blood cells are destroyed more quickly than the body can replace them.
  • Sickle cell anemia: Sickle cell anemia is an inherited condition that can be serious and is caused by a defective form of hemoglobin that kills red blood cells too early.

Factors that can increase your risk of anemia include:

  • Menstruation and pregnancy
  • A diet low in vitamin B-12, folate or iron
  • Family history
  • Intestinal disorders such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease
  • Age: People over 65 are at higher risk
  • Chronic conditions
  • Other: Additional risk factors including infections, blood diseases, alcoholism, toxic chemical exposure and certain medications can damage red blood cell production and increase your risk

Treatment and Prevention

Treatment for anemia depends on its cause. Some forms of anemia don’t have specific treatments, so treatment involves attempts to rid the body of the underlying disease causing anemia.

Many kinds of anemia that can’t be prevented, but a few can—including iron deficiency anemia and vitamin deficiency anemias. You should eat foods high in the following nutrients to help prevent anemia:

  • Iron: Beef and meat, beans, lentils, leafy veggies and dried fruits.
  • Folate: Folate is a synthetic form of folic acid. It’s found in many fruits and juices, peas, peanuts, leafy greens and enriched grain products.
  • Vitamin B-12: Meat, dairy and fortified cereal or soy.
  • Vitamin C: Citrus fruits and juices, peppers, broccoli, melons and strawberries.

Many people consider a multivitamin if they aren’t getting enough vitamins in the diet.

If you’re beginning to develop anemia, or may have a condition that could lead to it, speak to your doctor about your treatment and prevention options.

Schedule an appointment with a Revere Health Internal Medicine provider today!


“Anemia.” The Mayo Clinic.

“Understanding Anemia — the Basics.” WebMD.


The Live Better Team

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.