Anemia occurs when there is a decreased amount of hemoglobin, an iron-rich protein inside red blood cells, that helps carry oxygen throughout the body. Symptoms include general weakness, tiredness, difficulty concentrating, shortness of breath, confusion, dizziness, headaches, brittle nails, pale skin, and lightheadedness. Severe anemia, when it goes untreated, can cause heart and other organ failures, and in rare and extreme cases, even death. Although there are many types of anemia, anemias are categorized into three main groups: anemia caused by blood loss, anemia caused by decreased red blood cell production, and anemia caused by the destruction of red blood cells. Anemia through blood loss is usually caused from gastrointestinal bleeding such as ulcers or hemorrhoids, but can also occur from surgery or frequent blood donations. Anemia is also more commonly in females than in males due to menstruation and pregnancy. Anemia due to a lack of red blood cell production or increased red blood cell destruction can be due to abnormal red blood cells or various other conditions or factors including sickle cell anemia, iron and other vitamin deficiencies, poor dieting, bone marrow conditions, organ irregularities, infections, and toxins.
Anemia can be diagnosed through a physical examination and a simple blood test, although diagnosing the type of anemia may require more tests. Treatments vary depending on the severity and kind of the anemia including proper dieting, iron, and vitamin supplements. If the anemia is severe other treatments, including blood transfusions or medications, may be needed. If you or a family member has been diagnosed with anemia, talk to your doctor about the most current treatment options.