Signs and Symptoms of Anemia

Our blood has three main components: red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Red blood cells deliver oxygen to our body’s tissues. White blood cells help our immune system by fighting off bacteria and preventing infections and disease. And platelets are essential to help blood clot. Our blood is also made up of plasma, the liquid portion of our blood, in which red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets are suspended.

At a quick glance, anemia is a low red blood cell count. With a mild case of anemia, people do not usually experience any symptoms. However, when anemia becomes severe, it often causes symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, headache, chest pain, shortness of breath, unusual food cravings and pale skin. Who is at risk? Those who eating a poor diet, being pregnant, being a woman, having an intestinal disorder, having a family history of anemia are most at risk for anemia.

But there are many types of anemia. 

  • Sickle cell anemia: An inherited condition in which there are not enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body. The healthy red blood cells become stiff, sticky, and sickle-shaped, causing the blockage of blood flow in the body. This can lead to severe pain and organ damage. It most commonly affects people from Africa, India, South or Central America, Italy, Greece, Turkey, the Caribbean islands, and Saudi Arabia.
  • Pernicious anemia (B12 deficiency): Body is unable to absorb enough B12 within your diet. This may be caused by an autoimmune disorder or a weak stomach lining. In the long run, this can eventually cause nerve damage. On the other hand, too much B12 can also cause health problems.
  • Autoimmune hemolytic anemia: Immune system becomes overactive and destroys the body's own red blood cells. Treatment includes medication, such as prednisone, which works by suppressing the immune system so that it is no longer overactive.
  • Iron-deficiency anemia: Anemia due to lack of iron. Our bodies need iron in order to produce red blood cells. The most common reasons people have this type of blood disorder is they are not getting enough iron in their diet or in women, they experience significant blood loss with menstruation. It can also be caused by cancer or ulcers which cause blood loss within the gastrointestinal tract. This can be treated with iron pills, or in some cases, a blood transfusion if necessary.
  • Anemia of chronic disease: People often develop anemia when they have certain chronic diseases such as chronic kidney disease. The good news: this type of disorder does not usually need treatment. All that’s required is a synthetic hormone injection, such as Epogen or Procrit, which will produce more blood cells. In some cases, a blood transfusion may be needed.
  • Aplastic anemia: The bone marrow does not produce enough blood cells. This may be caused by an autoimmune disorder, a viral infection, or even a side effect of a certain drug. It can be treated with medication, a blood transfusion, and in some cases, a bone marrow transplant.

The treatment for anemia depends on what's causing the anemia. Iron-deficiency anemia and vitamin-deficiency anemia are usually treated with iron and vitamin supplements and changes in the diet. You may need blood transfusions, surgery, or medications for other types of anemia.