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Anemia

An image of a physician holding a tablet with an image of a syringe of blood and the word "anemia" written beneath it.

Anemia is a condition where the body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells, so there isn’t enough oxygen being carried to your body’s tissues. There are different types of anemia, and each have their own cause. It’s a condition that can be temporary or long term and can vary in severity.

Aplastic Anemia

This type of anemia occurs because of damage to blood-forming stem cells. It is commonly caused when your body’s immune cells attack stem cells found in the bone marrow.

Risk Factors:

Many things can affect blood cell production by damaging the bone marrow including:

  • Autoimmune disorders

  • Medications such as antibiotics and those used to treat rheumatoid arthritis

  • Viral infections including Epstein-Barr, hepatitis, cytomegalovirus, HIV, and parvovirus B19

  • Pregnancy which may cause the body’s immune system to attack bone marrow

  • Repeated exposure to toxic chemicals commonly used in pesticides, insecticides, or the petrochemical, benzene. When this type of exposure is avoided, the anemia might improve

  • Chemotherapy and radiation treatments can cause damage to healthy cells, including stem cells found in the bone marrow

Symptoms Can Include:

  • Abnormal bleeding, including nosebleeds, bleeding gums or prolonged bleeding from cuts

  • Dizziness

  • Fatigue

  • Fever

  • Frequent infections, or prolonged healing

  • Headache

  • Irregular or rapid heart rate

  • Pale skin

  • Shortness of breath

  • Skin rash

  • Unexplained or easy bruising

Iron Deficiency Anemia

This is a very common type of anemia that happens when your body cannot make enough healthy red blood cells because your body lacks the necessary amount of iron to make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is essential in allowing the red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body.

Risk factors:

Age: Adults, especially those over 65 are at a higher risk. For a variety of reasons, infants, children, and teens also have an increased risk.

Gender: Women are at higher risk for iron-deficiency anemia due to menstruation and pregnancy, delivery, and breastfeeding.

Family History: Some hereditary genetic disorders can cause a higher risk.

Exposure: Lead contamination from the environment or water.

Symptoms that can gradually increase over time include:

  • Brittle nails

  • Chest pain, rapid heartbeat, or irregular heartbeat

  • Cold hands and feet

  • Crack at the sides of the mouth

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Headache, lightheadedness, or dizziness

  • Loss of appetite

  • Pale skin

  • Pica (non-nutritive substance cravings, such as ice, dirt, or starch)

  • Restless leg syndrome

  • Shortness of breath

  • Tiredness, fatigue

  • Tongue swelling or soreness

  • Weakness

Symptoms will depend on the cause and severity of the anemia and can range from mild or moderate. This type of anemia can be treated with healthy eating changes, iron supplements, and intravenous iron therapy. Red blood cell transfusions are used to treat severe iron-deficiency anemia. If left untreated, it can cause complications and can be life-threatening.

Sickle Cell Anemia

One of the disorders that is part of sickle cell disease is sickle cell anemia. It’s a hereditary disorder that results in an insufficient amount of red blood cells needed to carry oxygen throughout the body. With sickle cell anemia, red blood cells are abnormally shaped. Under a microscope, these cells have a sickle shape, also described as crescent moon shaped. These cells are rigid, sticky, and can get stuck in smaller blood vessels. This can slow or block the flow of oxygen throughout the body.

Risk factors:

Ancestry: Sickle cell disease is most common among African Americans, however Hispanic, southern European, Middle Eastern, and Asian Indians also are affected.

Symptoms can include:

  • Breathing difficulty

  • Dizziness and lightheadedness

  • Fatigue

  • Irritability

  • Jaundice (yellow color to the skin and whites of the eyes)

  • Pale skin color

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Slow growth rate / delayed puberty

Thalassemia

This hereditary, genetic disorder causes lower than normal levels of hemoglobin, a protein needed to create healthy red blood cells. Consuming a healthy diet and getting regular exercise are ways that can help you cope with the disease. For patients whose Thalassemia is more severe, blood transfusions may be required.

Risk factors:

Family History / Genetics: Thalassemia is caused by mutated hemoglobin genes.

Ancestry: African American, Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern, and Southeast Asian populations are affected more often than other populations.

There are different types of Thalassemia, and the symptoms and associated complications depend on the type and severity of the disease. They can include:

  • Abdominal swelling

  • Bone deformities, commonly seen in the face / skull

  • Cardiac problems including heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms

  • Dark urine

  • Excessive iron levels

  • Fatigue

  • Infection

  • Pale or yellowish looking skin

  • Slow growth rate / delayed puberty

  • Spleen enlargement

  • Weakness