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Anemia - Detection, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Updated on May 14, 2010

Our body tissues need a continuous supply of nutrients, oxygen, and electrolytes for normal function. Red blood cells are the main component of blood on the cellular level and are also called RBCs or erythrocytes. These red blood cells contain hemoglobin, which is made up mostly of protein, which transports oxygen from lungs to the whole body. Anemic patients have reduced hemoglobin or red blood cells in their body which causes the blood not carrying enough oxygen from lungs to other body parts causing tiredness, weakness, inability to exercise, and a mild constant headache. This condition is known as anemia.

How anemia is detected?

For detecting anemia, doctors perform a blood test which determines the total percentage of red blood cells present in the body. After some laboratory evaluation, if it is found that RBCs are below normal range, then it is determined that the patient has anemia. The degree of anemia whether it is severe or minor also depends on ratio of red blood cells.

What causes anemia?

Hemorrhage – The major cause of anemia is bleeding. Anemia can become severe when there is loss of blood following an accident, major surgery, or cesarean section during childbirth.

Most common anemic conditions that result from chronic or long-term bleeding are:

  • Recurrent nose bleeds.
  • Untreated chronic hemorrhoids.
  • Excessive menstruation
  • Stomach ulcers.
  • Bleeding caused by tumors in the kidney or bladder.

Types of anemia

Low red blood cell production leading to anemia

Production of red blood cells requires many nutrients including vitamin B-12, iron, folic acid, vitamin C, copper, riboflavin, and maintenance of proper balance of hormones. If there is inadequate amount of these nutrients, it can generate anemia. Anemia should be treated according to the needs of the patient which is determined by clinical examination.

Hemolytic anemia is a case of excessive destruction of red blood cells

RBCs have an average lifespan of approximately 120 days. At the time of aging of these cells, they diminish from bone marrow, spleen, and liver. If this cell destruction exceeds the production of new RBCs, there are chances of a person getting hemolytic anemia. Hemolytic anemia includes sequestration of iron by spleen, RBC destruction mediated by antibodies, defective function of erythrocyte membranes, and abnormal hemoglobin values.

Symptoms of anemia - full chart
Symptoms of anemia - full chart

Iron deficiency anemia

Iron deficiency is most common nutritional deficiency in the world. Our body has the power to recycle the iron, but it is difficult when there is blood loss on a frequent basis. As our body's iron stores are very small, the missing iron should be replaced with iron supplements. Many foods contain iron, but the best source is meat. If our body’s iron stores get depleted on a frequent basis, we can develop iron-deficiency anemia or chronic and severe anemia also called as anemia of chronic disease with signs and symptoms of: pallor skin, spoon shaped nails, a pathological desire to eat paint and dust), craving for ice, weakness and tiredness in whole body, swollen tongue , and changes in cognitive behavior.

Once anemia is diagnosed, doctors need to correct the cause of its deficit first and then give high doses of iron Drug therapy is administered to the patient with iron supplements on a daily basis for many weeks and this therapy is done until number of RBCs and iron stores return back to normal, but doctors need to be cautious about providing iron therapy to anemic patients and should limit the dosage accordingly as long term iron therapy can cause iron overdose in the body which is really fatal to some important body parts.

Symptoms of Anemia

Some anemias may or may not produce symptoms but some symptoms are:

  • Weakness and tiredness.
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness when sitting or rising to stand.
  • Frequent sweating.
  • Rapid breathing.
  • Weak and rapid pulse.
  • Spots in visual fields.
  • Irritability.
  • Strange behavior and conduct.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Skin paleness, coldness, and yellowing.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Heart palpitations and rapid heart rate.
  • Yellowing of eyes as in jaundice.
  • Spleen enlargement.
  • Muscular weakness.

In cases of severe anemia:

  • Chest pain.
  • Angina.
  • Heart attack.

Treatment of anemia

Treatment depends on intensity of anemia. In a case of sudden anemic attack, it is necessary to control the bleeding and perform a red blood cell transfusion immediately. If the loss has occurred slowly and is a less severe anemia, the body can produce enough red blood cells, but then also most anemics need iron supplements. Also as you know there are many types of anemia and each requires an accurate diagnosis to apply the best treatment. In treatment of anemia, first of all it is necessary to define what type of anemia a person has. Untreated anemic patients are at risk of fatal injuries to body parts and even death, so it is really important to undergo proper treatment for anemia.


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thanks for info on anemia. I wonder if anyone can help on this: I was found to have anemia. Initially, I understood it was due to an ulcer, since healed. Now, my doctor has prescribed iron supplements and so far I feel no better. Maybe even worse. My diet, I know, is bad because I live alone and often miss meals. Oddly, some of that is from trying to follow a healthy diet, but with that comes finding what is good to eat, planning meals, recipes, preparation, cooking and cleaning up. Every day I feel a little worse and all that is just nearly impossible. Sometimes I buy the good food and it just goes bad in the refrigerator while I wonder what to find that tastes good and is fast to prepare and clean up, while not causing more problems. The supplements taste pretty awful to me, so it would be great if I had more appetite and some kind of food to look forward to instead of a bunch of pills.

    • soni2006 profile imageAUTHOR

      Rajinder Soni 

      9 years ago from New Delhi, India

      I think this will be really really interesting Anamika. You always write thought provoking highly detained and deeply researched articles and I have always been a fan of your hubs. The title of this hub is really interesting. Thanks for the link. I am checking it out dear.

    • Anamika S profile image

      Anamika S Jain 

      9 years ago from Mumbai - Maharashtra, India

      Nice one and very detailed and informative too! Thanks for the share. I have a hub on anemia and astrological connection which you may find interesting.

    • soni2006 profile imageAUTHOR

      Rajinder Soni 

      9 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Yes Ethel because it is very fatal when you don't know what anemia you are treating so diagnosis and determination of type of anemia is really really important.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Ethel Smith 

      9 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Sound information. Determining why a person is anaemic must be the first course of action.

    • soni2006 profile imageAUTHOR

      Rajinder Soni 

      9 years ago from New Delhi, India

      @Sandra, I have heard your story and it is really painful but regarding treating iron deficiency anemia, you can supplement your body with red meat to overcome the problem of less production of red blood cells. Red meat is rich in iron.

      @Veronica, anemia is very common in India and mostly there are females who suffer from this disease, I think mostly because of abnormally excessive menstruation and then blood loss during childbirth. Most females suffer from mild anemia. Supplementing an anemic's body with iron is the option.

      @HP Roychoudhury, thanks for your comment.

    • H P Roychoudhury profile image

      H P Roychoudhury 

      9 years ago from Guwahati, India

      It is a very useful hub to know a lot of “anemia”. Self consciousness is the best service to you. Thanks for useful information and sharing with details.

    • Veronica Allen profile image

      Veronica Allen 

      9 years ago from Georgia

      Since I was diagnosed with anemia has a teen, I am always sure to eat iron rich foods (sometimes I supplement it with an iron pill) to get and stay healthy.

    • profile image

      sandra rinck 

      9 years ago

      Yip. I have lived with this iron deficiency all my life. It became very severe when I was about 14 and I couldn't walk to the end of my driveway without fainting. There was never any real reason for why I was so anemic, all the doctors would say is that my body isn't producing enough red blood cells. I would have to take gigantic iron pills all the time!

      They said that if they couldn't get it under control the next step would be kidney dialysis. So I just took those darn pills. When I was 13 I was diagnosed with acid reflux disease, something about an irregular stomach (idk) later at about 17 I was diagnosed with my first stomach ulcer. My second when I was 19...

      Eventually my entire diet had to change. I couldn't eat just about everything but instead of not eating everything I just stayed away from certain foods that were causing me trouble. I think the foods that were causing my stomach woes were the same foods that would help absorb iron. ;)

      Anyways, it all worked out today. I still get tired and dizzy and see spots but at least my stomach doesn't hurt all the time. :D Great hub Soni.

    • soni2006 profile imageAUTHOR

      Rajinder Soni 

      9 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Hi Shiela b., if any person has iron deficiency anemia, I recommend to consume red meat in case of non-vegetarians and if a person is vegetarian, he/she can consume soya granules which is a good vegetarian alternative for red meat. Both these food products are rich in iron and help anemic patients to get their hemoglobin to normal levels. Afer all, natural food resources are better than taking artificial supplements.

      @suny51, thanks a lot buddy.

    • suny51 profile image


      9 years ago

      nice info soni,

    • sheila b. profile image

      sheila b. 

      9 years ago

      This was good information. Many years ago, the first time a doctor diagnosed me with iron deficiency anemia, he told me to take a vitamin with iron every day and to drink a glass of red wine every evening!


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