Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells provide oxygen to body tissues.
While many parts of the body help make 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 signals 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:
Possible symptoms include:
Some types of anemia may have other symptoms, such as:
The doctor will perform a physical examination, and may find:
Some types of anemia may cause other findings on a physical exam.
Blood tests used to diagnose some common types of anemia may include:
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:
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.
Call your health provider if you have any symptoms of anemia, or any unusual bleeding.
Marks PW, Glader B. Approach to anemia in the adult and child. In: Hoffman R, Benz EJ, Shattil SS, et al, eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2008:chap 34.
Reviewed by: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc., and Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital.
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