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What You Need To Know About Anemia

Medically Approved by Dr. Edward Salko

Table of Contents

Ill woman at home

Anemia is a blood condition where the number of healthy red blood cells (RBC) that deliver oxygen to the body becomes too low. 

The shortage of RBC can lead to an insufficient supply of oxygen, causing critical disruptions in the body’s overall health. Keep in mind that oxygen is crucial for cellular respiration – a process that provides energy to all tissues for the body to function well.  

While anemia is not as severe as other chronic disorders, paying attention to the condition is crucial to prevent complications. Below, we discuss the types, causes, symptoms, and general treatment for anemia. 

Types of Anemia

Anemia is an umbrella term for insufficient functional RBCs. The various types of anemia(1) can be classified based on cause, encompassing the following conditions. 

  • Iron-deficiency anemia: This type of anemia is due to the lack of iron in the body, which is essential for making hemoglobin – the protein in the RBCs that carry oxygen. Iron-deficiency anemia can stem from the following:
    • Microcytic anemia: Insufficient iron can lead to abnormally small red blood cells, causing the anemia. 
  • Folate deficiency anemia: Insufficient folate(3) can prevent the healthy development of RBCs, ultimately causing anemia.
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia:Vitamin B12(2) affects RBC production as it plays a role as a cofactor in the formation of haem, which is the primary component of hemoglobin. That said, vitamin B12 deficiency anemia can be further categorized or result in the following:
  • Aplastic anemia: This type of anemia occurs when the bone marrow produces inadequate red blood cells. The rare condition is typically associated with autoimmune diseases(4).
  • Hemolytic anemia: Hemolytic anemia results from rapid red blood cell destruction and slower replacement.  
  • Sickle cell anemia: This type of anemia is caused by a genetic malfunction, causing the red blood cells to shape like a sickle. As a result of such deformation, the RBCs cannot carry oxygen. 
  • Thalassemia: Thalassemia is hereditary and hinders sufficient or normal production of hemoglobin. 
Learn more about the specific types of anemia through the following guides:Iron Deficiency Anemia: How Serious Can It Get?How to Get Tested for Sickle Cell Anemia?How Serious Is Macrocytic Anemia? [+ 3 Ways To Address It]

Causes of Anemia

Nutritional deficiencies, specifically involving iron, vitamin B12, and folate, commonly lead to anemia. For example, the lack of iron can drive anemia because of its part in forming the protein hemoglobin, where the oxygen binds. 

Container with blood analysis in gloved hand and anemia text with cstethoscope pills

Causes of anemia can also expand to the following:

  • Inherited blood disorders
  • Chronic disorders such as lupus, kidney disease, thyroid disorders (hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism), etc.
  • Blood loss due to other conditions such as:
    • Menstruation
    • Surgery
    • Cirrhosis of the liver
    • Hemolysis
    • Fibrosis 
    • Internal lesions
    • Uterine bleeding

Common Symptoms of Anemia

Anemia results from conditions that limit oxygen supply, which means signs and symptoms linked with anemia can span from respiratory issues to digestive problems.  The term “anemic” has been associated with people diagnosed with anemia, which was primarily observed through the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Dizziness when standing up
  • Chest pains
  • Constipation
  • Chills
  • Increased heart rate 
  • Paleness 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tongue swelling 

Blood Tests for Diagnosing Anemia 

If you are experiencing the symptoms above, see your doctor for a proper diagnosis. Aside from assessing your symptoms, you will likely undergo some blood tests to narrow down the type of anemia you have.

You can expect the following test to accurately detect low levels of red blood cells in your body.

  • Complete blood count (CBC): This test measures not only your red blood cells but also your white blood cells, platelets, and more. It shows not just the numbers but the size of these blood compositions as well. 
  • Ferritin test: To analyze how iron is stored in your body, take the Ferritin test. It also provides substantial information on iron deficiency in your body.
  • Folates or folic acid test: This test measures the amount of folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, which is a prerequisite for producing red blood cells.
  • Iron test: With an iron test, your doctor can confirm if your symptoms correspond to iron deficiency as it evaluates the amount of iron in the blood and how iron moves in the body. 
  • Vitamin B12 test: Like any other components for making red blood cells, vitamin b12 should be screened to confirm anemia and detect the condition’s specific cause.
  • Fecal occult blood: In cases where the red blood cell deficiency is suspected to have been caused by gastrointestinal lesions or bleeding, an occult blood test might be ordered by your doctor. 

How to Treat Anemia

There is no one-size-fits-all when treating anemia, primarily due to its diverse categorization. As a rule of thumb, proper anemia treatment can only transpire if the cause is correctly identified.

Suppose the driving force behind the development of anemia is a nutritional deficiency in iron, folate, and vitamin b12. In that case, treatment may focus on nutritional supplements and dietary prescriptions that would increase the amount of these vitamins and minerals. 

Severe cases, however, may require certain injections and even blood transfusion to increase the red blood cell count. If the cause is traced back to blood marrow problems, a marrow transplant(5) may be needed depending on the seriousness of the condition.

Close-up of doctor holding bag while standing by patient during blood donation

Are You at Risk of Developing Anemia?

Anyone with a poor diet can have anemia, meaning the condition is typically acquired. However, some people have a higher risk of developing anemia due to physiological and health differences. This includes the following:

  • Women: Naturally, women are prone to significant blood loss through irregular menstruation and childbirth. 
  • Children: Young children have higher and more frequent usage of iron in their bodies due to growth spurts. Hence, if not supplied adequately, they can have iron deficiency anemia. 
  • Older adults: Those over 65 are prone to develop it as they also have higher risks for chronic disorders that induce low red blood cell levels. 
  • People taking blood thinners: Those under medication to prevent blood clots could develop anemia if monitoring is not implemented. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can anemia be cured?

Some anemias are curable while others are not, yet they are manageable. Anemias caused by nutrient deficiency are highly curable, mainly as insufficient nutrient supply is addressed. On the other hand, anemias caused by genetic disorders or autoimmunity, like aplastic anemia, sickle cell anemia, and thalassemia, don’t have a cure yet. Instead, the symptoms are managed through specific sets of treatments. 

What foods are good for anemia?

When preparing a diet plan for anemia, add foods high in iron, vitamin B12, and folates. These nutrients are essential in the production and maturation of red blood cells. 

Does drinking a lot of water help anemia?

Hydration indirectly helps with anemia, especially when facilitating nutrient absorption and promoting better vascular activity. However, drinking water alone is not enough to address anemia. Even if your water intake is regular and adequate, it won’t significantly affect you if you don’t follow the anemia treatment your doctor prescribes. 

The Bottom Line

Understanding what is anemia, its type, causes, symptoms, and treatment options allows you to take preventive measures and seek immediate medical intervention when necessary. If you suspect anemia based on symptoms you experience, consult your doctor and avoid performing self-diagnosis to secure a proper treatment plan.


1 Omer A, Hailu D, Nigusse G, Mulugeta A. Magnitude and morphological types of anemia differ by age among under-five children: A facility-based study. Heliyon. 2022 Sep 1;8(9):e10494. doi: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2022.e10494. PMID: 36105468; PMCID: PMC9465352.

2 Langan RC, Goodbred AJ. Vitamin B12 Deficiency: Recognition and Management. Am Fam Physician. 2017 Sep 15;96(6):384-389. PMID: 28925645. 

3 Khan KM, Jialal I. Folic Acid Deficiency. [Updated 2023 Jun 26]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK535377/

4 Baranski BG, Young NS. Autoimmune aspects of aplastic anemia. In Vivo. 1988 Jan-Feb;2(1):91-4. PMID: 2979824.

5 Bacigalupo A, Benintende G. Bone marrow transplantation for acquired aplastic anemia: What’s new. Best Pract Res Clin Haematol. 2021 Jun;34(2):101284. doi: 10.1016/j.beha.2021.101284. Epub 2021 Jul 7. PMID: 34404530.

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