What is Anemia?

Anemia is a condition resulting from a lack of healthy red blood cells. Anemia may form when there is a reduced amount of red blood cells or when the cells do not have enough hemoglobin [4124]. Red blood cells are important to the functioning of the body. They are responsible for providing oxygen to the body tissues [4123].

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Causes of Anemia

Red blood cells typically last for around 3 to 4 months [4123]. Bone marrow, which is the soft tissue inside the bones is constantly busy making more red blood cells.

The protein inside the red blood cells that carries the oxygen is called hemoglobin. People with anemia often have a reduced amount of hemoglobin, making it more difficult for the body tissues to receive enough oxygen [4123].

Iron, vitamin B12 and folic acid are the main components that affect the production of red blood cells. Poor diet and poor absorption of these nutrients by the body are common causes of anemia. Blood loss from heavy menstrual periods or stomach ulcers can also have an adverse effect on the amount of these important nutrients in the body. Some medications, immune system problems, certain diseases and cancers, inherited conditions as well as pregnancy are other issues that can cause anemia [4123].

Baby(102974)Credit: Stockvault.netSigns and Symptoms

Mild or slow developing anemia may present symptoms such as headaches, problems concentrating and irritability. Weakness and fatigue without a known cause are also considered to be signs of anemia.Without treatment anemia may become progressively worse. Symptoms of a more severe anemic condition include brittle nails, pale skin, shortness of breath and light-headedness [4123].


Doctors have a variety of methods that can test for different forms of anemia. They may conduct a physical examination and discuss relevant factors such as diet, medication and family history [4124].

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A blood test can determine the level of hemoglobin in the blood. A level of between 9.5 and 13.0 g/dL may indicate a mild form of anemia. Hemoglobin levels between 8.0 and 9.5 g/dL is described as of moderate severity. Anemia is considered severe when the hemoglobin level falls below 8.0g/dL [4125].


Anemia should be treated according to the underlying cause. Anemia caused by poor iron intake can be treated by an increase in iron-rich foods. Lean red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products and iron-fortified foods can help to treat iron-deficiency anemia (IDA) [4124].A doctor may recommend an iron supplement as well.

Consumption of vitamin C can help the body absorb iron. Orange juice, strawberries and broccoli are some foods that can help iron absorption because of their vitamin C levels. Tea and coffee however can adversely affect the body’s absorption rate [4124].

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Vitamin deficiency anemia is also known as megaloblastic anemia. It is caused by a deficiency in vitamin B12 or folate and can be treated with fortified cereals or folic acid supplements [4124]. Green leafy vegetables such as spinach also provide higher levels of folate than other vegetables.

Anemia caused by other factors will have different treatments. Consult your doctor for a personalised action plan.