Definition

Certain long-term medical conditions can cause anemia. Anemia is a low level of healthy red blood cells (RBCs). RBCs carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. When red blood cells are low, the body does not get enough oxygen.

Hemoglobin
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Causes

Anemia has several causes, but some may be unknown. Factors that play into anemia include:

  • Shortened lifespan of red blood cells
  • The body is not making enough new red blood cells
  • Lower release of a hormone that stimulates the body to make red cells
  • Problems with use of iron within the body

Long-term illnesses that can lead to anemia, include:

Risk Factors

Anyone with one of the conditions listed above may be at risk. There is a higher risk for it among the elderly.

Symptoms

Anemia often develops slowly. There may be few or no symptoms. Most symptoms are mild but may include:

  • Pale complexion
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Fever

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. Blood tests will show how many RBCs you have and how healthy they are. A diagnosis can be made based on blood tests and your health history.

Treatment

Anemia may improve if the underlying disease is treated.

Blood transfusions may be needed if the anemia is severe. It will supply healthy RBCs from a donor.

Medicine may also be used to encourage the growth of RBCs. This group of medicine is called erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs). This medicine may not be an option because of side effects. It can make some cancers worse.

Prevention

It is not clear how to prevent this anemia. Managing some chronic conditions may reduce the risk of anemia.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD
  • Review Date: 09/2019 -
  • Update Date: 09/13/2019 -