December 20, 2011
2 min read

What is anemia?

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Anemia is the condition of having a lower than normal red blood cell count or not enough hemoglobin.

Those who have anemia do not receive enough oxygen-rich blood. Anemia is common and may occur at any age and among any ethnic group. Although men and women can have anemia, women of childbearing age are at increased risk.

A major symptom of anemia is exhaustion. Long-term anemia may damage the brain, heart and other body organs. Severe anemia may lead to death.

Although some types of anemia may be severe and life-threatening if untreated, many types are mild, short term and easily treated. Some types may be prevented with a healthy diet or with dietary supplements. Treatment varies depending upon the cause and severity of the condition.

Various types of anemia exist that are caused by specific traits: aplastic anemia, blood loss anemia, Cooley’s anemia, iron deficiency anemia and sickle cell anemia.

Causes of anemia

There are three main causes of anemia. First, blood loss is the most common, specifically iron deficiency anemia. Blood loss may occur with heavy menstrual periods, bleeding in the digestive or urinary tract, surgery, trauma or cancer may also cause blood loss.

The second main cause is the lack of red blood cell production. Decreased red blood cell production may either be an inherited or acquired condition. Diet, hormones, chronic diseases or pregnancy are conditions and factors that prevent a person’s body from creating enough red blood cells.

Lastly, acquired and inherited conditions and factors may lead to high rates of blood cell destruction. This may occur when someone has an enlarged or diseased spleen, which is the body organ that removes worn out red blood cells. When a spleen is diseased or enlarged, more blood cells than needed may be removed. An example of an inherited condition that destroys too many red blood cells in the body is sickle cell anemia and a lack of certain enzymes.

Risk factors

Risk factors for anemia include low iron, vitamin or mineral diet; loss of blood after surgery or an injury; long-term illness (cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, heart failure and thyroid disease); long-term infection; or a family history of sickle cell anemia or thalassemia.

Additional information can be found by searching the following websites:

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