Anemia: causes, prevention and treatment

Jory Cross by Jory Cross | Licensed since 2012
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This article was updated on: 09/15/2018

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What is anemia?

Anemia is a blood disorder where you don’t have enough red blood cells or your blood doesn’t have enough iron, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Since red blood cells deliver oxygen to your cells, having anemia means that your cells aren’t getting enough oxygen. It’s a common disorder among seniors, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The most common type of anemia is caused by an iron deficiency.

Your body needs iron to make hemoglobin, a protein in your blood that carries oxygen. The most common cause of anemia is not enough iron in the blood, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

What are some anemia symptoms?

Anemia can make you feel tired, cold, short of breath, and/or irritable, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. You might also get headaches.

What are the causes of anemia?

These are the main causes of anemia, the U.S. National Library of Medicine reports:

  • You have lost blood
  • Your blood doesn’t carry enough iron
  • Your body is not making enough red blood cells
  • Your body is destroying red blood cells
  • You have lost a lot of weight (according to the Cleveland Clinic)

Certain medical conditions might result in anemia. A few examples include ulcers, colon polyps or cancer, and certain blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia. You can also inherit disorders that can contribute to anemia.

How do doctors diagnose anemia?

Health-care providers take a blood sample from you and do a complete blood count test, reports the Cleveland Clinic. Your red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets make up a complete blood count. Doctors might perform other blood tests, and might need to do a bone marrow biopsy in some cases.

How can you prevent anemia?

Because there are several different causes of this disorder, there are several ways you might be able to prevent anemia. In some cases, boosting the amount of iron or vitamin B12 to your diet can help prevent anemia. Some foods rich in nutrients that may prevent or treat anemia are listed below.

You might also want to review your medications with your doctor. The National Institutes of Health website says some medications could cause anemia.

What anemia treatments are there?

Because there are so many types and causes of this condition, anemia treatment may be different from one patient to another, says the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)’s website. In many cases, you won’t need surgery to treat anemia.

Your anemia treatment may include changes in your diet to include more iron, vitamin B12, or folic acid, and/or vitamin C.

  • Iron-rich foods include meat (especially red meat), spinach, chickpeas, tofu, peas, and dried fruits.
  • Vitamin B12-rich foods include meat, dairy products, and B12-fortified foods.
  • Folic acid-rich foods include spinach, eggs, and some fruits and fruit juices. Folic acid is a type of vitamin B.
  • Vitamin C-rich foods include many different fruits, and some vegetables, such as broccoli, tomatoes, and spinach. Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron.

Always talk to your doctor before making any changes to your diet or taking supplements.

In some cases, your doctor might recommend or prescribe mediations as part of your anemia treatment.

Some other possible anemia treatments may include a blood and bone marrow stem cell transplant or blood transfusion.

If your doctor determines that you need surgery as part of your anemia treatment, she or he will discuss the procedure with you. If you’re concerned about Medicare coverage of anemia treatment, see for more information.

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