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Anemia

Definition

Anemia is a low level of healthy red blood cells (RBC). 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.
There are several specific types of anemia, including:
Red Blood Cells
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Causes

The main causes of anemia are:

Risk Factors

Anemia is more common in:
Factors that may increase your chances of anemia include:

Symptoms

Symptoms of anemia may include:

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:

Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Options include:

Nutrition

Your doctor may suggest changes to your diet. The diet may include foods rich in iron, vitamin C, vitamin B12, and folate. Vitamins or iron supplements may be added.

Medications

To help treat your anemia or your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe:
  • Antibiotics
  • Hormone treatment
  • Epoetin for anemia due to chronic kidney disease or cancer chemotherapy
  • Medications that act on the immune system
  • Chelation therapyfor lead poisoning

Blood Transfusions

A blood transfusion delivers blood cells from healthy donor blood.

Bone Marrow or Stem Cell Transplant

This procedure places healthy bone marrow or stem cells in the body. The goal is for the new tissue to produce healthy blood cells. This procedure carries risk. It is only done in severe cases of anemia.

Surgery

Critical bleeding may be treated with surgery. In cases of very high RBC destruction, your spleen may need to be surgically removed.

Prevention

Most inherited forms of anemia cannot be prevented. But the following steps may be taken to prevent certain types of anemia:

RESOURCES

Iron Disorders Institute http://www.irondisorders.org

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Blood Services http://www.blood.ca

Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

References

Anemia—differential diagnosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated September 8, 2011. Accessed August 19, 2014.

Guralnik JM, Eisenstaedt RS, Ferrucci L, Klein HG, Woodman RC. Prevalence of anemia in persons 65 years and older in the United States: evidence for a high rate of unexplained anemia. Blood. 2004;104:2263-2268.

Nissenson AR, Goodnough LT, Dubois RW. Anemia: not just an innocent bystander? Arch Intern Med. 2003;163:1400-1404.

What is anemia? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/anemia/anemia%5Fwhatis.html. Updated May 18, 2012. Accessed November 1, 2012.

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