Because anemia may be the first symptom of a serious illness, it is very important to determine its cause. This may be difficult, particularly in the elderly, malnourished, or people with chronic diseases, whose anemia may be caused by one or more factors. A detailed medical, personal, and dietary history should report:
- Any family or personal history of anemia
- A history of gallbladder disease, jaundice, or enlarged spleen
- Heavy menstrual bleeding in women
- Any occurrence of blood in the stool or other signs of internal bleeding
- Dietary history, particularly in people who are elderly, poor, or both
The doctor should examine the patient carefully, especially checking for swollen lymph nodes, an enlarged spleen, and pale skin and nail color.
A complete blood count (CBC) blood test is performed to determine the presence of anemia. Other iron status blood tests are also used.
Complete Blood Count (CBC)
A complete blood count (CBC) is a panel of tests that measures red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. For diagnosis of anemia, the CBC provides critical information on the size, volume, and shape of red blood cells (erythrocytes). CBC results include measurements of hemoglobin, hematocrit, and mean corpuscular volume.
Hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the iron-bearing and oxygen-carrying component of red blood cells. The normal value for hemoglobin varies by age and gender. Anemia is generally considered when hemoglobin concentrations fall below 11 g/dL for pregnant women, 12 g/dL for non-pregnant women, and 13 g/dL for men.
Review Date: 01/13/2011
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.