Anemia is a low level of healthy red blood cells (RBCs). RBCs carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. When red blood cells are low, the body does not get enough oxygen.
There are several specific types of anemia, including:
- Anemia of inflammation—happens with long-term health issues
- Aplastic anemia—bone marrow can not make enough RBCs
- Iron-deficiency anemia—low levels of iron which is needed to make RBCs
- Macrocytic B12 deficient anemia and pernicious anemia—low levels of a vitamin that is needed to make RBCs
- Sickle cell anemia—RBCs have an abnormal shape and do not work well
|Red Blood Cells|
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The main causes of anemia are:
Blood loss, such as that caused by:
- Heavy menstrual periods
- Bleeding in the digestive tract
- Bleeding in the urinary tract
- Body does not make enough RBCs due to one of the following:
- Kidney disease
- Radiation therapy
- Lead intoxication
RBCs are destroyed at a higher rate than normal because of health issues such as:
- Sickle cell anemia
- Low levels of certain enzymes
Anemia is more common in woman and those who are pregnant. It is also more common in older adults who are sick or infants less than 2 years old.
Other factors that may increase the risk of anemia include:
- Poor diet which is low in iron, vitamins, and minerals
- Blood loss which may be due to periods, surgery, or injury
- Chronic or serious illness
- Chronic infections
- Family history of inherited anemia such as sickle cell anemia and thalassemia
The goal of treatment is to increase healthy RBCs. The exact steps will depend on the cause. Treating the underlying cause may relieve some anemia. Other steps that may help to increase RBCs include:
- Certain vitamins and minerals are needed to make red blood cells. Foods rich in iron, vitamin C, vitamin B12, and folate can help. Some people may need supplements if they can not get enough nutrients from food.
- Medicine may help to increase the amount of RBCs the body can make.
- A blood transfusion can quickly increase RBCs. The effect will not last if the cause of anemia is not treated.
- RBCs are made in the bone marrow. Transplanting bone marrow or stem cells can help to grow new healthy bone marrow. This new marrow should be able to make healthy RBCs. This procedure carries risk. It is only done in severe cases of anemia.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
Edits to original content made by Denver Health.
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Iron Disorders Institute http://www.irondisorders.org
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov
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