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I N B R I E F

:

Your Guide to
Anemia

Anemia is a blood disorder. Blood is a vital liquid that In some types of anemia, such as aplastic anemia, your
your heart constantly pumps through your veins and body also doesn’t have enough of other types of blood
arteries and all throughout your body. When some- cells, such as white blood cells (WBCs) and platelets.
thing goes wrong in your blood, it can affect your WBCs help your body’s immune system fight infec-
health and quality of life. tions. Platelets help your blood clot, which helps stop
bleeding.
Many types of anemia exist, such as iron-deficiency
anemia, pernicious anemia, aplastic anemia, and hemo- Many diseases, conditions, and other factors can
lytic anemia. The different types of anemia are linked cause anemia. For example, anemia may occur dur-
to various diseases and conditions. ing pregnancy if the body can’t meet its increased need
for RBCs. Certain autoimmune disorders and other
Anemia can affect people of all ages, races, and ethnici- conditions may cause your body to make proteins that
ties. Some types of anemia are very common, and some destroy your RBCs, which can lead to anemia. Heavy
are very rare. Some are very mild, and others are severe internal or external bleeding—from injuries, for
or even life-threatening if not treated aggressively. The example—may cause anemia because your body loses
good news is that anemia often can be successfully too many RBCs.
treated and even prevented.
The causes of anemia can be acquired or inherited.
What Causes Anemia? “Acquired” means you aren’t born with the condition,
Anemia occurs if your body makes too few red blood but you develop it. “Inherited” means your parents
cells (RBCs), destroys too many RBCs, or loses too passed the gene for the condition on to you. Sometimes
many RBCs. RBCs contain hemoglobin, a protein that the cause of anemia is unknown.
carries oxygen throughout your body. When you don’t
have enough RBCs or the amount of hemoglobin in Diagnosing Anemia
your blood is low, your body doesn’t get all the oxygen People find out they have anemia in a variety of ways.
it needs. As a result, you may feel tired or have other You may have symptoms and go to your doctor, who
symptoms. discovers the anemia through blood tests. Or, your
doctor might find out you have anemia as a result of
tests done for another reason.

Your doctor will likely ask about your medical and
family histories, do a physical exam, and recommend
tests or procedures to find out whether you have
anemia, what is causing it, and how severe it is. This

He or she variety of foods. fat-free or low-fat Physical Exam dairy products. anemia. and whether The basics of healthy eating: you have a family history of anemia or anemia-related n Focus on nutrient-dense foods and beverages— conditions. vitamin B12. Depending on the CBC results. These heart murmur. Tests and Procedures n Follow food safety guidelines Your doctor will recommend tests to identify the type of when preparing and eating anemia you may have and its severity. your doctor may recommend further tests Make following a healthy diet a of your blood or bone marrow (the soft tissue inside family goal. rapid breathing surgery. procedures. l Weak and rapid pulse. whole grains. You also may be asked about your diet. A healthy diet Treating Anemia supports growth and Anemia often is easily treated. These nutrients include iron. may check the color of your skin. As part of a physical exam. the first foods to reduce the risk of test is a complete blood count (CBC). any medicines or supplements you take. which provides foodborne illnesses. enlarged heart. Following a healthy diet ensures that you get enough of the nutrients that your body needs to make healthy Medical and Family Histories blood cells. added sugars. heart failure) actions can give you greater energy and improve your health and quality of life. feel your abdomen. The main goals of treatment are to: Possible Signs and n Raise your RBC count or hemoglobin level to im- prove your blood’s ability to carry oxygen n Treat the underlying condition causing your anemia Symptoms of Anemia n Prevent complications of the anemia. or blood transfusions (for severe anemia). information will help your doctor treat the anemia and its underlying cause. may be involved. its cause. These nutrients are found in a symptoms and how long you’ve had them. Most anemias are treatable. gums. Here are a few simple things you can do. Some anemias are treated l Increased thirst with dietary changes and nutritional supplements. seafood. Have . l Shortness of breath l Lower leg cramps Preventing or Controlling Anemia l Heart-related symptoms (abnormal heart rhythms. and how severe it is. young bones that makes blood cells). calories you use through physi- cal activity. beans and peas. children. and nuts and seeds. so an Follow a Healthy Diet accurate diagnosis is important. Your doctor will want to know about your signs and folate. vegetables. fruits. He or she ancing the calories you get from may listen to your heart and lungs. solid fats. and nail beds n Maintain a healthy weight by bal- and look for signs of bleeding or infection. Healthy eating also is good for your also may ask whether you’ve had an illness that can overall health. provide information about what organs or body systems n Limit your intake of salt. or foods and beverages with the do a pelvic or rectal exam to check for internal bleeding. Infants. l Sweating Other anemias are treated with medicines. A physical exam can confirm signs and symptoms and eggs. The treatment your development and doctor chooses will depend on the type of anemia you can help prevent have. such as heart or nerve damage n Relieve symptoms and improve your quality of life l Tiredness or weakness l Pale or yellowish skin If you have a mild or moderate anemia with no l Faintness or dizziness symptoms—or if your anemia isn’t getting worse—you may not need treatment. your doctor and refined grains. useful information about your blood. You can take steps to prevent or control anemia. and vitamin C. lean meats and poultry. Often. cause anemia. and teens grow rapidly.

dairy products. Others types of ane- Also. celiac disease. Hemolytic anemia Vitamin B12 and folate (another B vitamin) are needed occurs if your body can’t make enough RBCs to to make healthy RBCs. or blood loss—your aplastic anemia. aplastic anemia can be acquired or inherited. surgery and procedures. Your body absorbs these replace those destroyed. the The term “anemia” usually refers to a condition in protein in RBCs that carries oxygen. The causes of with its need for iron. l People who have diseases or conditions that such as Crohn’s disease. they eat medicines. l People who don’t get enough iron from the foods Treatments may include blood transfusions. and platelets. The main way which your blood has a lower than normal number you get iron is from food. Information About Specific Types of Anemia Iron-Deficiency Anemia Aplastic Anemia Your body needs iron to make hemoglobin. Treatment: Iron supplements and dietary changes (eating food rich in iron and vitamin C. Inherited hemolytic absorb enough vitamin B12 from food. cereals. Anemia is common in older If you have one of these types of anemia. cause lower than normal numbers body may need to make more RBCs than usual. growth spurts. RBCs are destroyed before their normal lifespan is up. healthy. and changes. if your bone marrow is damaged and can’t make deficiency anemia occurs if your body can’t keep up enough RBCs. RBCs have a lifespan of about 120 days. . adolescents. or kidney damage the bone marrow failure Treatment: Depends on the cause of the anemia. which Hemolytic Anemia increases iron absorption from food). childbearing age exposed to toxins. Pernicious anemia occurs if occurs if your body gets a signal to destroy RBCs your body can’t make enough RBCs because it can’t even though they are normal. healthy foods at home. iron. Treatment: Vitamin B12 supplements and dietary Treatments may include blood transfusions. l People who have conditions that prevent them Groups at risk from absorbing vitamin B12 l Risk groups differ depending on the cause and l People who don’t get enough vitamin B12 in their type of hemolytic anemia. and show your children how to Avoid Substances That Can Cause or Trigger Anemia make healthy choices when they’re away from home. Contact with chemicals or toxins in the environment can cause some types of anemia. However. diets Treatment: Depends on the cause of the anemia. Iron. avoid these adults because of chronic (ongoing) diseases. lack of triggers if you can. Aplastic anemia can occur Thus. changes (eating foods rich in vitamin B12. At certain times—such as of RBCs. anemia is related to problems with the genes that Groups at risk control RBCs. of other blood cells. and lifestyle fish. and breads. medicines. nutrient-rich diet. Sometimes. or taking certain medicines l People who have certain diseases and conditions. Groups at risk Groups at risk l Infants and children. Normally. and poor diet. some types of anemia. blood and marrow stem cell transplants. eggs. help your parents or other older relatives enjoy a mia are triggered by certain foods or cold temperatures. and women of l People undergoing radiation or chemotherapy. such as during pregnancy. l People who have internal bleeding and lifestyle changes. WBCs. Acquired hemolytic anemia vitamins from foods. such meat. too. Your body constantly makes new RBCs to replace Pernicious Anemia ones that die. other foods fortified with vitamin B12). your body needs more iron than usual.

follow your willingness of volunteers to take part in clinical trials. tools. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) ChooseMyPlate.S.nhlbi. If vention.gov may need regular screenings and followup with their n www. and Blood Institute Some types of anemia—such as pernicious anemia.gov Web site has information. tips. You can take part in a clinical trial to gain access to new treatments Visit your doctor regularly for checkups and ongoing before they’re widely available and help add to scien- care.htm Clinical Trials The National Heart. diagnosis. Suggest they visit information about heart and lung diseases and condi- their doctors for a checkup to see whether they also tions and sleep disorders.With some types of anemia.nih. and Clinical trials test new ways to prevent. If you’re diagnosed with anemia. If you have children or teens who have anemia. Common health assessment tools. and resources to help you learn more about healthy eating. and stay on anemia focuses on a few specific.gov/health/dci/index. you’ll want to reduce your types of anemia are generally straightforward and chances of getting an infection.nih. wash your easily treated. treat various diseases and conditions. medicines.htm doctors to prevent or control iron-deficiency anemia. Research on these and other blood disorders continues to be an important priority for the NHLBI. Lung. To do this. (NHLBI) provides information about the causes. MD 20824–0105 tion and make decisions with their doctor. the NHLBI’s clinical research hands often. www. diagnose. and treatment of anemia and other you’ve been diagnosed with one of these kinds of ane- blood diseases. www. Fax: 301–592–8563 Web site: www. Encourage them to learn about their condi- Bethesda.O. As a result. and blood diseases and sleep disorders. including anemia.choosemyplate. or thalassemia—can be inherited.nhlbi.nhlbi.gov/health/infoctr/index. and Blood Institute (NHLBI) NHLBI Web Site supports research aimed at learning more about blood The NHLBI Web site offers health education materials. lung.gov NIH Publication No. supplements. search and to search for clinical trials: sible and whether they need to avoid certain activities. Work With Your Doctor Visit your doctor if you have signs or symptoms of The NHLBI’s research efforts often depend on the anemia. the public. talk to your family members. Resources include numerous might have anemia. avoid people who have colds. and health professionals.gov Girls and women who have heavy menstrual periods n clinicalresearch. and resources for patients. symptoms. To Learn More Talk To Your Family The National Heart.gov Diseases and Conditions A–Z Index The NHLBI’s Diseases and Conditions Index (DCI) pro- vides complete.gov/studies/index. rarer types of the away from crowds. publications.nih. n www. This can Phone: 301–592–8573 help young people feel more in control and have a more TTY: 240–629–3255 positive outlook about their health. The NHLBI also provides dependable mia. You also can visit the have an increased risk of injury or infection.html USDA ChooseMyPlate. dependable.nhlbi.nih. talk to NHLBI Health Information Center them about how they can take an active role in their P. Box 30105 own care. talk with your doctor. plain-language information about heart. 11-7629A September 2011 .nih. www.clinicaltrials. or other treatments. and the NHLBI Web site. and tell him or her about any new or changing tific knowledge. disorder. Lung. For more information about clinical trials related to Older children and teens who have severe anemia may anemia. doctor’s advice about diet. Talk with following Web sites to learn more about clinical re- your doctor about ways to keep them as healthy as pos.gov The U. pre- Fanconi anemia. diseases and disorders.