Anemia: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Prevention & Treatment

Anemia is a prevalent blood condition that arises when there is a shortage of healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin in the bloodstream. 

Red blood cells play a crucial role in transporting oxygen throughout the body, and when their quantity or functionality is compromised, it can lead to various symptoms and complications. 

Several types of anemia originate from different causes and risk factors, each requiring its approach to diagnosis, prevention, and treatment.  

Symptoms of anemia can range from mild to severe, including fatigue, pale skin, shortness of breath, dizziness, and chest pain. 

Identifying the Cause

Identifying the underlying cause of anemia is essential for determining the appropriate treatment plan. Some common causes are iron deficiency, vitamin B12 deficiency, and certain medical conditions such as kidney disease or autoimmune disorders. 

Diagnosing the cause of anemia involves blood tests, and treatments may include dietary changes, supplements, transfusions, or medication to manage underlying conditions. Preventing anemia consists of maintaining a balanced diet rich in iron, vitamin B12, and folate and addressing any underlying medical issues or risk factors.

Important Anemia Information

Anemia results from a deficiency of healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin, affecting oxygen transportation in the body.

Common symptoms include fatigue, pale skin, shortness of breath, and dizziness, with various types and causes requiring targeted diagnosis and treatment. Effective anemia management involves early detection, understanding the cause, and implementing prevention strategies alongside appropriate treatment.

Symptoms of Anemia

Anemia can present with a variety of symptoms, which can affect your everyday life and overall well-being. Some of the most common symptoms include:


This is often the first sign of anemia, as your body struggles to provide enough energy due to reduced oxygen levels in the blood.

This is because the body lacks enough red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your tissues, resulting in persistent tiredness and lack of energy.


You may experience a general feeling of weakness or tiredness, making it difficult to complete daily tasks.

This may manifest as needing help performing regular activities or exercises that were previously easy.

Shortness of breath

As your body tries to compensate for reduced oxygen levels, you may have difficulty catching your breath, even during light activities.

As this symptom could signal other conditions, seeking immediate medical guidance is crucial to achieving accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.


A decrease in oxygen supply to your brain can cause dizziness.

Safety needs to be prioritized when experiencing this symptom due to feelings of unsteadiness, faintness, or a sensation of spinning. There is an increased risk of accident or injury.


Lack of sufficient oxygen can sometimes lead to headaches.

This lack of oxygen can cause blood vessels in the brain to swell, triggering a headache.

Pale skin

Anemia can result in noticeably pale or yellowish skin, as the reduced red blood cell count affects skin color.

In anemic individuals, the lack of red blood cells or hemoglobin can make skin appear paler than usual.

Cold hands and feet

Reduced blood circulation can make your extremities feel cold. Insufficient red blood cells or hemoglobin in the body can affect proper blood circulation, making extremities like hands and feet feel unnaturally cold in normal or warm temperatures.

The intensity of anemia symptoms can differ significantly based on the root cause and level. Those who experience mild anemia might have little to no discernible symptoms. As anemia progresses, the symptoms may become more severe, and additional issues can arise.

Additional symptoms

Additional symptoms can include the following.

Chest pain

Severe anemia can cause chest pain because the heart works harder to provide oxygen to your body.

This symptom can also be a sign of more serious heart conditions. It’s, therefore, essential to seek an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment for persistent chest pain.


As anemia worsens, lightheadedness can often accompany anemia. This can occur because the brain is not receiving sufficient oxygen due to lower red blood cell or hemoglobin levels.

This lack of oxygen can result in a sensation of unsteadiness or feeling faint.


Severe anemia can cause an irregular heartbeat, which can be dangerous if left untreated. It is crucial to respond to this potentially severe condition. 

As the heart needs to pump more blood to compensate for the lack of oxygen, this extra effort can disrupt the normal rhythm. 


Prolonged fatigue and weakness due to anemia can lead to a higher degree of lethargy, greatly affecting your daily activities and quality of life. 

You should seek medical evaluation if you’re persistently feeling lethargic, especially if paired with other typical anemia symptoms like paleness or shortness of breath. 

Understanding the symptoms of anemia is crucial to recognizing the condition and seeking appropriate medical care. If you suspect that you or a loved one may be experiencing anemia, consult with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Causes of Anemia

Anemia can be caused by various factors, ranging from deficiencies to chronic diseases and inherited conditions. This section will discuss the major causes of anemia, focusing on deficiencies, blood loss, and inherited as well as medical conditions.

Iron, Vitamin B12, and Folate Deficiencies

One of the common causes of anemia is iron deficiency, which can result from poor dietary intake, malabsorption issues, or chronic blood loss. 

Iron is an essential element of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells responsible for transferring oxygen throughout the body.

Another cause of anemia is a deficiency in Vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 is fundamental for the accurate production of red blood cells and the creation of DNA. 

A deficiency in folate also contributes to anemia. Folate, also known as folic acid or vitamin B9, is vital for the proper development and functioning of red blood cells.

Like vitamin B12 deficiency, a lack of folate can cause megaloblastic anemia.

Chronic Diseases

Certain chronic diseases can lead to anemia, including kidney disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Kidney disease can lead to a decrease in erythropoietin, a hormone that prompts the formation of red blood cells in the bone marrow.

Rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune disorders can cause inflammation, which can negatively affect the production of red blood cells, leading to anemia.

Blood Loss

Blood loss due to accidents, injury, and medical conditions is another cause of anemia.

It can be due to acute, sudden bleeding, such as from an injury, or it may come from chronic, slow bleeding, such as from ulcers or even from heavy menstrual periods. 

Inherited and Medical Conditions

Specific genetic conditions and health problems can also trigger anemia.

Sickle cell anemia, Hemolytic anemia, and Aplastic anemia are some of the examples. Medical attention will need to be sought for such conditions. 

Types of Anemia

There are multiple kinds of anemia with distinct causes and specific or combined treatment strategies.

Iron Deficiency Anemia

Iron Deficiency Anemia, the most prevalent type of anemia, happens when your blood lacks sufficient iron to generate ample red blood cells. Causes may include blood loss, poor diet, or problems with iron absorption.

When the body lacks iron, it cannot produce enough healthy red blood cells to transport oxygen effectively.

Symptoms include tiredness, weakness, pale skin, and cold hands and feet. Treatment typically involves iron supplements and dietary changes.

Vitamin Deficiency Anemia

Vitamin Deficiency Anemia, also known as megaloblastic anemia, is caused by a lack of essential vitamins such as vitamin B12 or folic acid.

This deficiency impairs red blood cell production and leads to abnormally large red blood cells, which cannot function properly. 

Hemolytic Anemia

Hemolytic Anemia happens when the body breaks down red blood cells at a faster pace than it can replenish them. Causes may include inherited conditions like thalassemia or autoimmune diseases.

Treatment depends on the underlying cause and may involve medication, blood transfusions, or surgery.

Sickle Cell Anemia

Sickle Cell Anemia is a genetic disorder where red blood cells are of unusual shape and break apart easily, causing a shortage of healthy red blood cells.

This leads to organ damage, pain, and other complications. There is no cure for sickle cell anemia, but treatments can help manage symptoms and reduce complications.

Aplastic Anemia

Aplastic Anemia is a rare condition where the bone marrow doesn’t produce enough red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

This may result from autoimmune diseases, exposure to certain chemicals, radiation, or certain medications. Treatment may include blood transfusions, medicines to stimulate bone marrow production, or bone marrow transplant.

Pernicious Anemia

Pernicious Anemia is a kind of anemia resulting from a vitamin B12 deficiency, where the body can’t absorb vitamin B12 from food due to a deficiency in intrinsic factor, a glycoprotein necessary for absorption.

This leads to a decrease in red blood cell production. Treatment usually involves vitamin B12 injections or supplements.

Diagnosis and Testing

By combining results from your medical history, physical examinations, and various tests, your doctor will be able to provide an accurate anemia diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment options.

Medical History and Physical Examination

To identify the possibility of anemia, your healthcare provider will inquire about your medical and family history in addition to conducting a physical examination. It is essential to discuss any symptoms you are experiencing, such as fatigue or pica (a craving for non-food substances like dirt or ice), especially in children.

Your doctor may also ask about any underlying conditions, such as celiac disease, which could contribute to anemia.

Blood Tests and Complete Blood Count

A crucial part of diagnosing anemia is through blood tests, one of which is the Complete Blood Count (CBC). The CBC assists in identifying the quantity of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets in a blood sample.

Anemia is typically indicated by a low red blood cell count, reduced hemoglobin, or low hematocrit (the volume of red blood cells in your blood).

In addition to the CBC, your doctor may order other blood tests to identify the cause of anemia, such as iron deficiency anemia.

Testing the levels of erythropoietin – a hormone that stimulates red blood cell production – can also help understand the underlying reason for anemia.

Additional Tests

Depending on your medical history and blood test results, your doctor may recommend additional tests to determine the cause of anemia. These tests may include:

Iron studies

These examinations estimate the quantity of iron in your blood and assist in assessing your body’s capacity to absorb and utilize iron.

Abnormal results can indicate iron deficiency anemia or other types of anemia.

Vitamin B12 and folate levels

A deficiency in these nutrients can cause anemia, so testing their levels can help identify the cause of the condition.

Understanding these levels can help a healthcare provider determine the appropriate course of treatment and provide specific dietary recommendations.

Reticulocyte count

This test measures the number of young red blood cells in your blood, which can provide insight into your body’s red blood cell production.

Reticulocytes are young, immature red blood cells. A high reticulocyte count may indicate that the body is responding to anemia by producing more red blood cells.

Bone marrow examination

In some cases, a bone marrow examination may be necessary to determine if there is an issue with red blood cell production or other disorders present.

This test involves taking a small sample of bone marrow tissue, usually from the hip bone, for testing. This can help determine whether the body is producing enough red blood cells.

Risk Factors and Populations Affected

Populations at higher risk include children due to rapid growth and often finicky eating habits, some adults, especially older adults, because of possible diet deficiencies and chronic diseases, and pregnant women.

Women and Pregnancy

Women, particularly those who are pregnant, have an increased risk of developing anemia. During pregnancy, a woman’s body requires more iron to support the growth of the fetus and the increase in blood volume.

This can lead to iron-deficiency anemia and cause symptoms such as tiredness and weakness.

Infants and Young Children

Infants and young children are also at risk for anemia because their rapid growth requires high levels of iron and other nutrients that help create red blood cells.

If they don’t receive enough of these nutrients from their diet or supplements, anemia can develop. Iron-Deficiency anemia is common in this age group, but it can be prevented through proper nutrition and supplementation.

Older Adults

Older adults may also be at risk for anemia due to age-related changes in their bodies, making it harder for them to produce and maintain a healthy number of red blood cells.

Additionally, older adults are more likely to have chronic diseases or take medications that can contribute to the development of anemia. Regular check-ups and managing underlying conditions can help prevent anemia in this population.

Individuals with Chronic Conditions

People with chronic medical conditions, such as kidney disease or cancer, may be at greater risk of developing anemia. These conditions can interfere with the production of red blood cells or lead to their early destruction. 

Proper management of these diseases and close monitoring of hemoglobin levels can significantly help in the prevention and treatment of anemia.

Prevention Strategies

Preventing anemia can often be achieved by addressing its common causes. Advice from a healthcare provider can provide a tailored approach to prevent anemia and maintain overall health.

Dietary Improvements and Supplements

Making dietary improvements is an essential step towards preventing anemia. Consuming a well-balanced diet rich in iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid helps maintain healthy red blood cell production.

Foods high in iron include red meat, poultry, fish, beans, and iron-fortified cereals. Vitamin B12 can be found in animal products like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. Leafy greens, fruits, and beans are excellent sources of folic acid.

For individuals at risk of anemia or experiencing mild anemia, iron supplements may be recommended to ensure adequate iron levels in the body. It is advisable to consult a healthcare provider before starting any supplement regimen.

Managing Chronic Conditions

Controlling and managing chronic conditions like diabetes, kidney disease, or inflammatory bowel disease can help reduce the risk of anemia.

Regular medical check-ups, taking prescribed medications, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are crucial in preventing complications that lead to anemia.

Avoiding Medications that Cause Anemia

Certain medications may cause anemia as a side effect or by interfering with the body’s ability to produce or maintain healthy red blood cells.

Consult a healthcare provider if you believe your medicine could be causing anemia. They may adjust the dosage or prescribe a different medication to minimize the risk.

Treatment and Management

The treatment and management of anemia depend largely on the type and cause of the condition. This involves regular monitoring and addressing any underlying causes to prevent recurrence.

Oral and Intravenous Supplements

For some types of anemia, especially iron deficiency anemia, healthcare providers typically recommend oral iron supplements to increase the body’s iron levels.

Intravenous (IV) iron supplementation might be administered in more severe cases or when oral supplements are not effective. In addition, vitamin C can enhance iron absorption in the digestive tract, so it’s advisable to include vitamin C-rich foods in your diet or take additional supplements.

Blood Transfusions

A blood transfusion might be necessary for severe cases of anemia or when the body cannot produce enough healthy red blood cells.

This procedure involves receiving healthy red blood cells, usually from a compatible donor, to replenish the low levels in the body.

Bone Marrow Transplant

A bone marrow transplant can be an option for specific types of anemia, like aplastic anemia or leukemia, where the bone marrow is not producing enough red blood cells.

This procedure replaces the damaged bone marrow with healthy bone marrow cells from a donor, which helps regenerate new, healthy red blood cells.

Medications and Antibiotics

Depending on the underlying cause of anemia, healthcare providers might prescribe medications to boost red blood cell production or treat the underlying condition. 

Antibiotics may be required for anemia resulting from infection, while other medications may be used to manage anemia associated with chronic diseases.

It is essential to discuss potential side effects with your healthcare provider and inform them about any other medications you are currently taking, like NSAIDs, which can sometimes aggravate anemia.

Lifestyle Changes

Adopting certain lifestyle changes can help manage anemia and prevent its development or recurrence.  These may include:

Following a balanced diet rich in iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid

Engaging in regular exercise and physical activity, as recommended by your healthcare provider

Avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption

Limiting exposure to environmental toxins or chemicals, including radiation

By implementing these strategies and working closely with your healthcare provider, you can effectively manage and potentially prevent anemia.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the common symptoms of anemia?

Anemia can trigger various symptoms, including fatigue, weak physical strength, and breathlessness. These occur because the body’s tissues are not receiving enough oxygen due to the lack of healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin.

Other symptoms can include pale skin, dizziness, and a rapid heartbeat. Nevertheless, the intensity of symptoms can shift based on the root cause of anemia and its duration.

How is anemia diagnosed?

To diagnose anemia, healthcare providers will typically start by asking about your medical and family history, followed by a physical exam.

Blood analyses, like a complete blood count (CBC), are typically employed to tally the quantity of blood cells in a blood sample and determine the presence of anemia. Additional tests may be ordered to identify the specific type and cause of anemia.

What are the main causes of anemia?

Anemia can be caused by several factors, such as nutritional deficiencies (e.g., iron, vitamin B12, or folic acid) and chronic diseases (e.g., kidney disease, cancer, or inflammation).

This condition can also be a result of blood loss (e.g., from injury, surgery, or menstruation) or genetic conditions (e.g., sickle cell anemia or thalassemia). In some cases, the cause of anemia may be unknown or idiopathic.

Are there different types of anemia?

Yes, there are many forms of anemia. Some common types include iron deficiency anemia, the most common form when your body doesn’t have enough iron to produce hemoglobin.

Vitamin deficiency anemia is caused by a lack of vitamin B12 or folic acid, which is necessary for red blood cell production. 

Hemolytic anemia occurs when the red blood cells are broken down at a quicker rate than they can be produced.

Aplastic anemia is a severe but rare form where the bone marrow fails to produce enough red blood cells.

How can anemia be prevented?

Anemia prevention depends on the underlying cause. In the case of iron-deficiency anemia, it’s important to include iron-rich foods in your diet (e.g., red meat, beans, or fortified cereals) and to take iron supplements as directed by a healthcare professional. 

For vitamin-deficiency anemia, consuming adequate amounts of foods rich in vitamin B12 and folic acid can help. In general, maintaining a well-balanced diet, staying physically active, and following the advice of your healthcare provider can contribute to preventing anemia.

What are the treatment options for anemia?

Treatment for anemia varies depending on its cause and severity. Common treatments include iron, vitamin B12, or folic acid supplements to treat nutritional deficiencies.

Medications are also prescribed to manage underlying conditions causing the anemia and stimulate red blood cell production.

Severe cases of anemia will require blood transfusions to replace lost or destroyed red blood cells.

Bone marrow transplants are also considered for certain types of anemia, where the bone marrow is unable to produce healthy red blood cells.

Your healthcare provider will work with you to determine the most appropriate treatment plan based on your specific condition and needs.