Anemia occurs when there aren’t enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to your body’s organs. As a result, it’s common to feel cold and symptoms of tiredness or weakness. There are many different types of anemia, but the most common type is iron-deficiency anemia. You can begin to ease symptoms of this type of anemia by adding iron to your diet.
Anemia happens when you don’t have enough red blood cells or your red blood cells don’t work as they should. Your red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body. Oxygen powers your cells and gives you energy. Without healthy red blood cells that do their job, your body doesn’t get the energy it needs to function. While some types of anemia are short-term and mild, others can last for a lifetime. Left untreated, anemia may be life-threatening.
When someone develops anemia, they’re said to be anemic, meaning they have symptoms of anemia, like being very tired or feeling cold all of the time. Anemia affects different people in different ways:
Anemia is very common, affecting an estimated one-third of the global population and an estimated 3 million people in the United States.
There are many anemia types, each causing red blood cell levels to drop.
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Fatigue — feeling too tired to manage your activities — is the most noticeable anemia symptom. Other symptoms may include:
People may be born with certain types of anemia or develop anemia because they have certain chronic diseases. But poor diet causes iron-deficiency anemia, which is the most common form of anemia.
Your healthcare provider will ask questions about your symptoms. As anemia happens when you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells, they’ll do blood tests to check on your red blood cells:
First, your healthcare provider will determine if you have anemia caused by a poor diet or a more serious health problem. They may refer you to a hematologist, a healthcare provider who specializes in blood disorders. Here are some examples of common anemia treatments:
Providers may use medications like immunosuppressants or treatments like blood transfusions to treat anemias that happen when you have abnormal red blood cells, like aplastic anemia or hemolytic anemia.
You can’t prevent some kinds of anemia, such as sickle cell anemia, hemolytic anemia or aplastic anemia. People with chronic diseases who may develop anemia should watch for anemia symptoms. And you can prevent nutritional anemias by eating a healthy diet.
Your prognosis or expected outcome depends on why you have anemia, the type of anemia you have and whether you have a severe form of it. Most of the time, healthcare providers can treat anemia by helping you manage your diet or with medications. But there are times when you may be living with anemia for the rest of your life.
People who have undiagnosed or untreated anemia may have life-threatening organ failure. Children who have severe anemia may have developmental delays. People in their 80s may develop heart conditions, including angina, arrhythmias and myocardial infarction.
While some types of anemia are short-term and mild, others can last for a lifetime. There are several ways to help manage anemia, including:
If you have anemia, you should check with your provider if your symptoms get worse despite treatment or if you notice changes in your body that may be new symptoms of anemia.
Anemia may increase your risk of a heart attack. Call 911 if you have the following symptoms:
Anemia may affect your body in many ways. It may happen for many different reasons. If you’re concerned about developing anemia or you have anemia, here are some questions you may want to ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Anemia happens when you don’t have enough red blood cells or your red blood cells aren’t working as well as they could. Some people are born with forms of anemia, but most people who have anemia develop the condition over time. That’s why it’s important to keep track of changes in your body. For example, we all have days when we feel worn out. But if you’re feeling very tired for several days despite getting rest, consider talking to your healthcare provider. Most of the time, anemia is a short-term issue easily treated by changing your diet or taking supplements. Untreated, anemia may cause serious medical issues.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/12/2022.
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