What is anemia of chronic disease?

Anemia of chronic disease refers to having low levels of red blood cells as a result of autoimmune diseases (diseases in which the body’s immune system attacks joints and/or body organs) or other chronic illnesses. Chronic diseases are those that last longer than 3 months. This condition is also called anemia of inflammation or anemia of inflammation and chronic disease (AI/ACD).

How common is anemia of chronic disease?

It is the second most common type of anemia, after anemia caused by a deficiency of iron.

Who is at risk for developing this condition?

The most common diseases that can cause anemia are:

  • Any type of infection
  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease (Nearly every patient with this type of disease will be get anemia because kidneys make erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone that controls the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow.)
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Chronic rejection of a transplanted organ
  • Heart failure
  • Obesity

What causes anemia of chronic disease?

Chronic diseases may cause changes in red blood cells, the oxygen-carrying blood cells made by bone marrow. These changes can cause red blood cells to die sooner and slow down their production.

In anemia of chronic disease, the iron that is normally recycled from old red blood cells to help make new red blood cells is retained within a system of cells called macrophages. This limits the amount of iron available to help create new red blood cells.

In addition, the way that iron is metabolized within cells is impaired. (Metabolism is a series of organized chemical reactions needed by the body to survive.)

What are the symptoms of anemia of chronic disease?

The symptoms are similar to those caused by iron-deficiency anemia and include:

  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Having pale skin
  • Having shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Being dizzy or feeling faint
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Having headaches

Some people have no symptoms. Some people have symptoms only when they are exercising.

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