Anemia is a condition in which you don't have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body's tissues. Having anemia may make you feel tired and weak.
There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can range from mild to severe. See your doctor if you suspect you have anemia because it can be a warning sign of serious illness.
Anemia signs and symptoms vary depending on the cause of your anemia. They may include:
Pale or yellowish skin
Shortness of breath
Dizziness or lightheadedness
Cold hands and feet
Anemia occurs when your blood doesn't have enough red blood cells. This can happen if:
Your body doesn't make enough red blood cells
Bleeding causes you to lose red blood cells more quickly than they can be replaced
Your body destroys red blood cells
Types of Anemia and Their Causes
Iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency anemia is caused by a shortage of iron in your body. Your bone marrow needs iron to make hemoglobin. Without adequate iron, your body can't produce enough hemoglobin for red blood cells.
Vitamin deficiency anemia. In addition to iron, your body needs folate and vitamin B-12 to produce enough healthy red blood cells. A diet lacking in these and other key nutrients can cause decreased red blood cell production.
Anemia of chronic disease. Certain diseases — such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, Crohn's disease and other chronic inflammatory diseases — can interfere with the production of red blood cells.
Aplastic anemia. This rare, life-threatening anemia occurs when your body doesn't produce enough red blood cells. Causes of aplastic anemia include infections, certain medicines, autoimmune diseases and exposure to toxic chemicals.
Anemias associated with bone marrow disease. A variety of diseases, such as leukemia and myelofibrosis, can cause anemia by affecting blood production in your bone marrow. The effects of these types of cancer and cancer-like disorders vary from mild to life-threatening.
Hemolytic anemias. This group of anemias develops when red blood cells are destroyed faster than bone marrow can replace them. Certain blood diseases increase red blood cell destruction. You can inherit a hemolytic anemia, or you can develop it later in life.
Sickle cell anemia. This inherited and sometimes serious condition is an inherited hemolytic anemia. It's caused by a defective form of hemoglobin that forces red blood cells to assume an abnormal crescent (sickle) shape. These irregular blood cells die prematurely, resulting in a chronic shortage of red blood cells.
Other anemias. There are several other forms of anemia, such as thalassemia and malarial anemia.
Left untreated, anemia can cause many health problems, such as:
Severe fatigue. When anemia is severe enough, you may be so tired that you can't complete everyday tasks.
Pregnancy complications. Pregnant women with folate deficiency anemia may be more likely to experience complications, such as premature birth.
Heart problems. Anemia can lead to a rapid or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). When you're anemic your heart must pump more blood to compensate for the lack of oxygen in the blood. This can lead to an enlarged heart or heart failure.
Death. Some inherited anemias, such as sickle cell anemia, can be serious and lead to life-threatening complications. Losing a lot of blood quickly results in acute, severe anemia and can be fatal.
Eat a vitamin-rich diet. Many types of anemia can't be prevented. But iron deficiency anemia and vitamin deficiency anemias can be avoided by having a diet that includes a variety of vitamins and nutrients, including:
Iron. Iron-rich foods include beef and other meats, beans, lentils, iron-fortified cereals, dark green leafy vegetables, and dried fruit.
Folate. This nutrient, and its synthetic form folic acid, can be found in fruits and fruit juices, dark green leafy vegetables, green peas, kidney beans, peanuts, and enriched grain products, such as bread, cereal, pasta and rice.
Vitamin B-12. Foods rich in vitamin B-12 include meat, dairy products, and fortified cereal and soy products.
Vitamin C. Foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits and juices, peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, melons and strawberries. These items help increase iron absorption.
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