Anemia is a very common condition in which you don't have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body's tissues. Having anemia may make you feel tired, cold, dizzy and irritable.
At first anemia can be so mild that it goes unnoticed. Other symptoms include pale or yellowish skin, irregular heartbeats, shortness of breath, dizziness or lightheadedness, chest pain and cold hands and feet. The symptoms however worsen as anemia worsens.
What Causes Anemia?
Anemia occurs when your blood doesn't have enough red blood cells. This can happen due to three main reasons: your body doesn't make enough red blood cells, bleeding causes you to lose red blood cells more quickly than they can be replaced or because your body is destroying the red blood cells.
Most common types of anemia include:
Iron deficiency anemia - This is the most common type of anemia worldwide. Iron deficiency anemia is caused by shortage of iron in your body. Your bone marrow needs iron to make hemoglobin. Without adequate iron, your body can't produce enough hemoglobin for red blood cells.
Without iron supplementation, this type of anemia occurs in many pregnant women. It is also caused by blood loss, such as from heavy menstrual bleeding, an ulcer, cancer and regular use of some over-the-counter pain relievers, especially aspirin.
Vitamin deficiency anemia - In addition to iron, your body needs folate and vitamin B-12 to produce enough healthy red blood cells. A diet lacking in these and other key nutrients can cause decreased red blood cell production.
Additionally, some people may consume enough B-12, but their bodies aren't able to process the vitamin. This can lead to vitamin deficiency anemia, also known as pernicious anemia.
Anemia of chronic disease - Certain diseases — such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, Crohn's disease and other chronic inflammatory diseases — can interfere with production of red blood cells.
When should you see a doctor?
Make an appointment with your doctor if you're feeling fatigued for unexplained reasons. Some forms of anemia, such as iron deficiency anemia or vitamin B-12 deficiency, are common.
Fatigue has many causes besides anemia, so don't assume that if you're tired you must be anemic. Some people learn that their hemoglobin is low, which indicates anemia, when they donate blood. If you're told that you can't donate blood because of low hemoglobin, make an appointment with your doctor.
If you don’t get enough iron from your food, ask your doctor about taking iron dietary supplements. The body absorbs iron from meat and fish better than it does from vegetables. If you’re a vegetarian, consult a healthcare provider to make sure you’re getting enough iron.
Making healthy lifestyle choices, including a nutritious, iron-rich diet, can help prevent common types of anemia so you can have more energy and feel better.