Anemia in Pregnancy
Anemia is a low level of healthy red blood cells (RBC). RBCs carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. The body does not get enough oxygen when RBCs are lower than normal.
Blood is made up of many blood cell types and plasma. These all increase during pregnancy. RBCs do not go up as much, which can lead to anemia.
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The most common cause is low iron levels. Iron is a mineral found in hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the part of the RBC that carries oxygen. The body needs more iron during pregnancy. Anemia happens when these needs are not met.
Other causes are:
- Low amounts of folic acid or vitamin B12
- Loss of blood because of injury, a bleeding ulcer, or bleeding hemorrhoids
- Problems in the genes causing less hemoglobin to be made or hemoglobin that does not work as it should
Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:
- Having anemia before pregnancy
- Very heavy bleeding during periods before pregnancy
- Morning sickness with frequent vomiting
- Pregnancies that are close together
- Being pregnant with more than one baby
- Eating foods low in iron
- Problems with hemoglobin—more common in those of African, Mediterranean, Southeast Asian, or West Indian descent
Some people may not have symptoms. Those who do may have:
- Lightheadedness or fainting
- Pale skin in the palms of the hands, lips, nails, and eyelids
- Rapid heartbeat
- Problems breathing
- Dry hair or hair loss
- Dry skin or nails
- A sore, red tongue
- Cravings for non-food items such as clay, ice, and paper
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam may be done. This may be enough to suspect the diagnosis.
Your blood will be tested for:
- Hematocrit level—the number of RBCs in the blood compared to total amount of blood
- Hemoglobin level—the amount of hemoglobin in the blood
Other testing of the blood will help look for a cause.
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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The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists https://www.acog.org
American Pregnancy Association https://americanpregnancy.org
Canadian Women's Health Network http://www.cwhn.ca
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada https://www.sogc.org
Anemia & pregnancy. American Society of Hematology website. Available at: https://www.hematology.org/education/patients/anemia/pregnancy. Accessed September 21, 2021.
Anemia and pregnancy. UCSF Medical Center website. Available at: https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/anemia-and-pregnancy. Accessed September 21, 2021.
Iron deficiency anemia in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/iron-deficiency-anemia-in-adults. Accessed September 21, 2021.
Treatment of iron deficiency anemia in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/treatment-of-iron-deficiency-anemia-in-adults. Accessed September 21, 2021.