Are You at Risk for Anemia? What to Know

HealthAfter50 | Oct 18, 2016 Jan 3, 2017

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Symptoms of anemia

Tired again? Or have you been feeling uncharacteristically grumpy lately? Fatigue or irritability could be signs of anemia. Other symptoms include weakness, trouble concentrating, sexual dysfunction, shortness of breath, and dizziness.

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How the condition occurs

Anemia occurs when you don’t have enough hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that picks up and transports oxygen throughout your body. The risk of anemia generally increases with age.

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Complications

Anemia that’s not properly diagnosed and treated can have an impact on your health: Studies show that anemia can exacerbate the symptoms of underlying heart disease and be a risk factor for frailty.

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Getting a diagnosis

Anemia is often overlooked, but a blood test can reveal any abnormality in your hemoglobin and red blood cell levels. Additional tests can determine if you have any of the following types of anemia and help determine the course of care.

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Iron-deficiency anemia

Iron-deficiency anemia can result from a decreased ability to absorb nutrients from food; malnutrition; a strict vegetarian diet; or chronic, low-level internal bleeding. To treat anemia, your doctor will likely prescribe iron supplements.

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Underlying illness

Inflammation from an underlying illness, such as rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, or cancer, can cause anemia. To treat it, your doctor may give you injections of a hormone to boost hemoglobin production. But this type of anemia is usually reversible if you treat the source of the infection or inflammation.

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Pernicious anemia

Pernicious anemia is a rare type of anemia caused by a deficiency of vitamin B12, needed for red blood cell production. In severe cases, the deficiency can cause neurological damage. This condition can be cured by vitamin B12 injections.

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Genetic forms of the illness

Genetic forms of anemia include sickle-cell anemia, which tends to be more common among blacks, and thalassemia, which is more common among people of Mediterranean and South-Asian descent. Depending on the condition and severity, treatments such as blood transfusions may be needed.