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Anemia occurs when a person’s healthy red blood cell levels are too low.  When this is too low, it leads to low levels of hemoglobin, the essential protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body.  If tissues and organs do not receive the proper amount of oxygen, they will not function the way they should.


Anemia is the most common blood condition in the United States.  Women and those with chronic diseases are more likely to develop anemia. 




Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia.  That being said, causes for anemia can usually be divided into two categories: those that decrease the production of red blood cells and those that increase the destruction of red blood cells. 


Factors that can decrease the production of red blood cells include:


  • Hypothyroidism

  • Inadequate amounts of dietary iron, vitamin B-12, or folate

  • Lack of stimulation of red blood cell production by the hormone erythropoietin


Factors that can increase the destruction of red blood cells include:


  • Heavy menstruation

  • Childbirth

  • endometriosis

  • Gastrointestinal lesions

  • Excessive uterine bleeding

  • Accidents or surgeries

  • Fibrosis within bone marrow

  • Cirrhosis of the liver

  • hemolysis, which is a rupture of red blood cells that can happen with certain medications or Rh incompatibility

  • Spleen disorders

  • Genetic disorders such as thalassemia, sickle cell anemia, and G6PD deficiency




The most common signs and symptoms of anemia include:

  • Paleness

  • Fatigue

  • Feelings of being cold

  • Headache

  • Shortness of breath

  • Dizziness or weakness

  • Sore tongue

  • Bruise easily

  • Fast heartbeat

  • Unintended lower leg movement (i.e. restless leg syndrome)




Treatment options for anemia is dependent upon what is causing it. Making sure a person is receiving adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals is often the first approach recommended by a doctor. If a person is experiencing anemia due to low levels of iron, nutritional supplements, such as vitamin B-12 and folate, can be used for treatment.  If the anemia is severe enough, erythropoietin injections may be used to increase the production of red blood cells.  In rare cases, a blood transfusion may be needed. 

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