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Anemia: Types, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Iron deficiency anemia under the microscope. Note the pale, hollow centered red blood cells.

Iron deficiency anemia under the microscope. Note the pale, hollow centered red blood cells.

All About Anemia

Anemia is frequently called "low blood count": specifically of the red blood cells. Red blood cells are the oxygen and waste carriers of the circulatory system. When there are not enough red cells, oxygen delivery is reduced and this will affect every organ in the body. Waste chemical removal is also reduced and toxins build up in the tissues.

Red cell anemia is often confused with white cell leukemia. The two are quite different. Leukemia is a disorder of the white blood cells, the infection fighters of the body. White blood cells do not carry oxygen. They specifically seek out foreign invaders in the body and remove them. Occasionally, the white cell system can go overboard causing the body to attack itself as if it were a foreign object.

There are several types and causes of red cell anemia and they will be introduced here. Anemia shows up in levels of severity ranging from mild to severe. Treatments for anemia are as varied as the causes of the affliction.

During a yearly health examination, your doctor should order a Complete Blood Count (CBC). This test requires one small tube of blood and the blood is examined by a machine that counts the cells per milliliter of blood. A smear is also examined by a Medical Technologist. Anemia is one of the conditions that a CBC will diagnose.

Typical CBC results. RBC = Red Blood Cell Count. The 'L' indicates that this particular count is on the low side.

Typical CBC results. RBC = Red Blood Cell Count. The 'L' indicates that this particular count is on the low side.

Symptoms of Anemia

When the body loses red blood cells, the tissues cannot get enough oxygen to operate correctly. Whatever the cause of anemia, the first symptom is tiredness. Sometimes, as in sudden blood loss, the tiredness is swift and can lead to death. Other types of anemia may come on gradually and unnoticed until the anemic patient tries to climb stairs or exert themselves in some way. The result is shortness of breath on exertion.

Another symptom is paleness of the hands, face, and feet. The extremities suffer first from oxygen deprivation and there is a noticeable lack of blood flow. These areas are often cold to the touch.

Irritability arises from fatigue and shortness of breath. Feelings of inadequacy will befall the patient as they cannot physically do what they were once capable of doing. Lack of oxygen to the brain will cause dizziness and nausea. Anemic patients may lose consciousness or feel like they are going to pass out.

These symptoms may be temporary or chronic depending on the cause of the anemia. Some anemias require blood transfusions or iron supplements. Changing the diet may be of use in increasing iron stores and vitamin B12 may help to increase energy.


The number one cause of anemia is blood loss:

  • Sudden blood loss results from injury and trauma
  • Inherited causes of blood loss include sickle cell anemia, Thalassemia, inherited absorption disorders (unable to absorb iron), and autoimmune disorders such as Lupus.
  • Chemical destruction of red blood cells occurs in cancer and chemotherapy treatment
  • Transfusion reactions can cause widespread destruction of red blood cells
  • Other systemic conditions such as kidney disease, HIV, tuberculosis, and diabetes may cause blood loss.

Types of Anemia

Type of AnemiaBasic DescriptionPossible Treatment

Iron deficiency anemia

Patient is unable to absorb iron to make hemoglobin which causes destruction of red cells

Dietary changes to include iron rich foods and some vitamins

Aplastic anemia

The bone marrow is not producing red cells

Blood transfusions, bone marrow transplants

Hemolytic anemia

Complicated condition requiring a specific diagnosis as to what is causing the hemolysis

Blood transfusions, bone marrow transplants, treating the cause

Pernicious anemia

Usually a vitamin deficiency causes this anemia

Drug and vitamin supplements may help

Chronic anemia

May affect the elderly and infirm

Treat the underlying cause

How to Diagnose Anemia

Diagnosing the different types of anemia is the job of a Hematologist, which may be a Medical Doctor (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.). A specialist in internal medicine or other specialists will diagnose and treat anemias. An Immunohematologist may be consulted if blood transfusions are needed.

Anemia is diagnosed by the use of the Complete Blood Count blood test, a bone marrow exam, tests for iron and vitamin levels, and other lab tests. Interpretation as to the type of anemia is done by medical specialists who will also decide the course of treatment.

Do not attempt to treat your own anemia. You may do more harm than good. For instance, iron deficiency anemia is treated initially with diets high in iron and iron supplements. These supplements can be toxic if not needed. Trust your hematologist as they have much experience in treating anemias.

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Read More From Healthproadvice

The Opposite of a Low Blood Count

The direct opposite of anemia is polycythemia - a condition of the body producing too many red blood cells. The treatment for polycythemia is blood donation. A treatment to lower their iron stores may be necessary also.

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2012 Lela

Comments Do you know someone with anemia or do you suffer from low blood count?

Terri on September 24, 2012:

Very interesting hub, written with concisie easy to understand statements.

Nancy Yager from Hamburg, New York on September 22, 2012:

Thanks for the education on something that affects so many of us.

Daphne Shadows on September 19, 2012:

I wish I could donate blood but I can't because of health issues.

Anemia is a lot scarier than I thought!

Also, I now know what leukemia is.

IntegrityYes on September 19, 2012:

I voted up for sure. That is very useful and well-written.

KDuBarry03 on September 19, 2012:

Great presentation and use of information, Austinstar! My mom just told me that she used to be anemic and one of my coworkers and friend is anemic as well and they suffer many side effects because of it. They both inherited the condition and have to watch a few things as you stated. Thanks for the share :)

drbj and sherry from south Florida on September 19, 2012:

Wow, Lela, I feel as if I just attended at least a six-week course in the types of anemia, its causes and symptoms. What a thorough examination(!) of the subject. Voted up of course (!)

Audrey Kirchner from Washington on September 19, 2012:

She just had one this summer---touch and go for a while there as she had seizures and all kinds of complications but she's doing better--knock on wood---her name is Hope~ How appropriate!

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on September 19, 2012:

What a rough life. It's a good thing that she has such a great family of support. Are they considering bone marrow transplant?

Audrey Kirchner from Washington on September 19, 2012:

Bob's niece was just diagnosed with aplastic anemia a few months ago and among all her other health problems including meningomyelocele, it's been a rough go---hoping she beats this as she sure is a trooper at a ripe old 16 years old---sad, sad, sad.

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on September 19, 2012:

Sudden blood loss leads to extreme tiredness. If you go to sleep, you may not wake up.

I could have listed HDN - hemolytic disease of the newborn. It's a relatively frequent cause of anemia in infants, but that is truly a whole new topic.

Christopher Antony Meade from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom on September 18, 2012:

Thanks for laying out all the facts on this distressing condition. I never knew before that we could die from sudden tiredness.

I'm lucky. I've always been very healthy, despite a very unhealthy lifestyle.

Denise Handlon from Michigan on September 18, 2012:

Great presentation here Austinstar...enjoyed the table you inserted along with the facts. :) Rated up. I/U

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on September 18, 2012:

Thank you penlady. And wow, you are fast on the draw here! I just now published this hub. I hope it will help in some small measure. Suffering from anemia is not nice. It's amazing to see the difference when they receive a blood transfusion.

penlady from Sacramento, CA on September 18, 2012:

Thanks for giving us information on a topic that doesn't seem to be as widely talked about as some other health issues. Voted up and interesting. Also tweeted.

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