Healthy Living

What Causes Anemia?

What Causes Anemia?

Anemia is a condition characterized by low levels of red blood cells, or hemoglobin. This results in cells of the body receiving insufficient amounts of oxygen. The tissues and organs and do not function properly resulting in tiredness. It is one of the most common conditions seen in people, and it mostly affects women and those with chronic health conditions. It is also very common in developing countries where malnourishment is rampant. There are different types of anemia, and some are normal while others may be very serious posing a threat.

Anemia can be a temporary or permanent condition and can be mild or severe depending upon the cause. One must consult the doctor if he/se suspects that they are having anemia since it can be a signal of a more serious illness.

The treatments basis the severity and cause can vary from taking supplements and undergoing certain medical procedure. Some types of anemia can be prevented by eating a healthy diet.


Anemia is categorized into types based on the cause:

  • Caused by loss of blood
  • Caused by impaired production of red blood cells
  • Caused by destruction of blood cells

Blood loss occurs due to various reasons such as health conditions including ulcers, hemorrhoids and cancer. In women, menstrual blood flow and delivery may cause considerable loss of blood, particularly if there is excessive bleeding or multiple pregnancies.

Anemia occurs when there is insufficient production of red blood cells or if the cells have impaired functioning.

Impaired functioning of red blood cells result from conditions like:

  • Sickle cell anemia – this genetic condition is caused by a defect in the gene and in this disease the red blood cells becomes sickle shaped. These cells break down rapidly affecting the transport of oxygen to different parts of the body.
  • Deficiency of vitamin – Diet deficient in folate and vitamin B 12 results in anemia as these components are necessary for the production of blood cells.
  • Impaired bone marrow – Production of red blood cells in the body is affected by problems in bone marrow and stem cells.
  • Deficiency of iron – Deficiency of this mineral affects the production of hemoglobin, the carrier of oxygen in blood cells. It is caused by unhealthy diet, considerable loss of blood, certain digestive conditions, certain drugs and even by endurance training.

Anemia is also caused by a number of other health issues, most of which results in insufficient production of hormones that are required for making red blood cells.

The health conditions that may result in anemia include:

Anemia may also be caused by the destruction of red blood cells in the body. 

The other causes include:

  • Certain drugs and infections
  • Advanced diseases of liver and kidney
  • Exaggerated response of the immune system
  • Vascular disorders and severe burns
  • Enlarged spleen

What are the Symptoms of Anemia?

The signs and symptoms of anemia depend on the cause of the problem. Some of the symptoms are as follows;

In the initial stage of anemia, a person might ignore the symptoms since it may be mild, but as the condition progresses, the symptoms worsen.

When to consult a doctor?

One must seek medical attention if he/she feels tired and weak without any particular reason. Having symptoms like fatigue or tiredness does not always indicate that the person is suffering from anemia.

At times people come to know that their haemoglobin level is low when they go for a blood test or blood donation. So if the report suggests low haemoglobin level or a person is unable to donate blood because of this reason, one must meet the doctor to diagnose the cause.

What are the Risk Factors of Anemia?

Some of the risk factors that increase the chances of suffering from anemia include;

  • Diet with insufficient vitamins: If a diet of a person in continuously low in iron, vitamin B12 and folate then there is possibility of developing a deficiency of the required vitamins which can cause anemia
  • Intestinal problems: If a person is suffering from some intestinal disorders that will make it difficult to absorb the nutrients can increase the risk of anemia. Some of the conditions include – Crohn’s disease and celiac disease.
  • Menstruation: Women who menstruate are more at risk compared to postmenopausal women and men due to loss of blood. And the risk is more in women who have heavy bleeding compared to the normal level of bleeding during menstruation. Such conditions should be treated to avoid complications.
  • Pregnancy: Pregnant women need to take multivitamins and folic acid since this is required for the growth and development of the baby. If women don’t take these supplements during pregnancy there is more risk of anemia both for the mother and the new born baby.
  • Chronic conditions: Certain medical conditions like kidney failure, cancer or any other chronic illnesses can increase the risk of anemia. Since such conditions cause shortage of red blood cells in the body. Slow and continuous blood loss caused due to an ulcer or some internal bleeding within the body can create shortage of iron in the body. This condition can cause iron deficiency anemia.
  • Family medical history: If a person has a family history of inherited anemia for instance sickle cell anemia, there is a greater risk of the person suffering from a similar condition.
  • Age: Older adults who are 65 years and above are at greater risk of suffering from anemia.
  • Other factors: Past record of certain infections, blood related problems and autoimmune diseases, alcoholism, over exposure to harmful chemicals and use of certain medications can all affect the red blood cell production and cause anemia

What are the Complications of Anemia?

If anemia is left untreated for very long then the symptoms will worse and cause many other health related complications, such as;

  • Severe weakness: When anemia starts to get worse with time, it can cause severe tiredness and fatigue and make it impossible for a person to complete simple daily tasks.
  • Pregnancy complication: Pregnant women who have folate deficiency anemia can have lot of complications and it can also lead to premature birth of the baby. 
  • Heart issues: If a person has anemia, the heart needs to pump more blood to make up for the insufficient oxygen and this can lead to complications like an enlarged heart or heart failure. Anemia can also increase the risk of irregular heartbeats.
  • Death: Some types of anemia like sickle cell anemia can be very fatal and at times even lead to death. It is very dangerous to lose a lot of blood very fast and can cause severe anemia which is a life-threatening condition.

How to Diagnose Anemia?

One of the most common methods used for diagnosing anemia is complete blood count (CBC). This is a test used to identify varied blood components of the patient which includes hemoglobin and hematocrit levels, which is the ratio of red blood cells to the total volume of blood. There is no need for any specific preparation required for this test; it just needs a sample of the blood. A CBC test result can be useful to check the patient’s overall health since it can diagnose other conditions like leukemia or kidney problems.

The doctor can check the reports of the CBC test and compare it with the normal healthy level of an individual. The healthy level may differ basis the gender, age etc. But CBC test cannot be considered completely effective since it does not provide a definitive diagnosis. There is chance of the report suggesting that the person is outside the normal level, but can still be healthy.

So apart from this test, the doctor will perform a physical examination and ask for information about the patient’ and his/her family’s medical history.

The doctor may also ask the patient to undergo certain other procedures to confirm anemia and the cause of this condition.

What are the Treatments for Anemia?

There are different treatment options and the main objective will be to increase the volume of red blood cells which will in turn increase the oxygen level the blood carries.

Basis the type of anemia the patient is suffering from, the doctor will recommend the treatment option.

  • Iron deficiency anemia: This can be treated with iron supplements and certain diet changes, which means including iron rich food like meat, eggs, green leafy vegetable etc.
  • Thalassemia: This condition can be treated with folic acid supplements, getting rid of the spleen, blood transfusion and bone marrow transplants.
  • Anemia of chronic disease: In this anemia is caused due to some chronic condition and the cure will be in identifying and treating the chronic disease.
  • Sickle cell anemia: In this condition, the oxygen levels will be administered, pain relief medication will be provided along with intravenous fluids. The other treatment options will include certain antibiotics, folic acid supplements and blood transfusions.

Key Takeaways

  • The loss of blood, impaired production of red blood cells, and destruction of blood cells can lead to anemia.
  • Anemia affects approximately 3 million American and around 1.62 million people across the world.
  • There are more than 400 types of anemia