Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells provide oxygen to body tissues.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
While many parts of the body are essential to making red blood cells, most of the work is done in the bone marrow. Bone marrow is the soft tissue in the center of bones that helps form blood cells.
Healthy red blood cells last between 90 and 120 days. Parts of your body then remove old blood cells. A hormone called erythropoietin made in your kidneys signal your bone marrow to make more red blood cells.
Hemoglobin is the oxygen-carrying protein inside red blood cells. It gives red blood cells their red color. People with anemia do not have enough hemoglobin.
Possible causes of anemia include:
Chronic diseases such as cancer, ulcerative colitis, or rheumatoid arthritis
Genes -- some forms of anemia, such as thalassemia, can be inherited
Blood loss (for example, from heavy menstrual periods or stomach ulcers)
Problems with bone marrow such as lymphoma, leukemia, or multiple myeloma
Problems with the immune system that cause the destruction of blood cells (hemolytic anemia)
Surgery to the stomach or intestines that reduces the absorption of iron, vitamin B12, or folic acid
Possible symptoms include:
Dizziness or light-headedness (especially when standing up or with exertion)
Fatigue or lack of energy
Shortness of breath (especially during exercise)
Some types of anemia may have other symptoms, such as:
Signs and tests
The doctor will perform a physical examination, and may find:
Rapid heart rate
Some types of anemia may cause other findings on a physical exam.
Blood tests used to diagnose some common types of anemia may include:
Blood levels of vitamin B12, folic acid, and other vitamins and minerals
Bone marrow examination
Other tests may be done to identify medical problems that can cause anemia.
Treatment should be directed at the cause of the anemia, and may include:
Corticosteroids or other medicines that suppress the immune system
Erythropoietin, a medicine that helps your bone marrow make more blood cells
Supplements of iron, vitamin B12, folic acid, or other vitamins and minerals
The outlook depends on the cause.
Severe anemia can cause low oxygen levels in vital organs such as the heart, and can lead to a heart attack.
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