Anemia occurs when there is a decrease in the number of red blood cells in the blood. Certain nutrients (iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid) are required to make red blood cells. The role of these red blood cells is to carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. When the number of red blood cells is too low, the blood cannot carry an adequate supply of oxygen, resulting in certain symptoms, including:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Shortness of breath
Anemia can develop very slowly, and symptoms vary depending on the severity of the condition. As a result, some have no symptoms at all, while others may experience symptoms during physical effort only.
Causes and triggers
There are many causes of anemia. The main ones are blood loss (e.g., menstruation, injury, childbirth or surgery), inadequate red blood cell production (e.g., iron, folic acid or vitamin B12 deficiency), and excessive destruction of red blood cells (e.g., autoimmune reaction). Blood tests are required to establish a diagnosis and identify the type of anemia.
Certain factors increase the risk of developing anemia, such as:
- A diet that is low in iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid
- Intestinal disorders that limit the absorption of nutrients (e.g., Crohn's disease, celiac disease)
- Certain chronic health conditions (e.g., cancer, kidney failure)
- A family history of anemia
- The use of certain medications
- Age (> 65 years)
Treatment will depend on the cause and severity of your anemia. Based on the type of anemia you have, your healthcare provider may recommend the use of supplements (iron, vitamin B12, folic acid) or certain medications. In more severe cases, blood transfusions may be necessary. If the cause is related to a health issue, treatment of the issue should also increase red blood cell levels.
To prevent certain types of anemia, patients may take supplements or eat foods that are rich in iron, vitamin B12 or folic acid.
When should I see a medical professional?
Consult a medical professional if you experience prolonged fatigue or if you have symptoms suggestive of anemia.