Anemia: Meaning, Symptoms, and Types


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What is anemia?

Anemia is a very common blood disorder in which your blood has lower than the normal number of red blood cells. This condition can also occur if your red blood cells don't contain enough haemoglobin.
Hemoglobin is a complex protein found in red blood cells that contains an iron molecule and gives blood its red colour. It is this protein that helps the red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

Severe or long-lasting anemia can damage your heart, brain, and other organs in your body. Very severe anemia may even cause death.

For men, anemia is typically defined as haemoglobin level of less than 13.5 gram/100 ml, and in women as haemoglobin of less than 12.0 gram/100 ml.

How does anemia occur?

The human body makes three types of blood cells:

  • white blood cells to fight off any infection
  • platelets to help your blood clot and heal wounds fast
  • red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout your body

The red blood cells contain haemoglobin an iron-rich protein that gives blood its red colour.

The haemoglobin aids the red blood cells to carry oxygen from the lungs and distribute it to all parts of your body and to collect the carbon dioxide from the body and bring it to your lungs so that it can be exhaled.

Most of the blood cells including the red blood cells are produced in your body’s bone marrow, which is found in the cavities of your large bones. Bone marrow is a spongy kind of tissue.

To produce the red blood cells and haemoglobin the human body needs iron, vitamin B-12, folate from the foods that are eaten and digested.

Anemia can occur when the body does not receive enough nutrients, though this is not the only cause for this condition to occur.  There are other factors which can cause anemia and based on those factors anemia can be of different types such as :

  • Iron deficiency anemia:  It is the most common type of anemia, and is caused by a deficiency of iron in your body. The bone marrow needs iron to make haemoglobin. Therefore, without adequate iron, your body enough haemoglobin cannot be produced for red blood cells. This type of anemia usually occurs in many pregnant women. Other causes include blood loss resulting from heavy menstrual bleeding, an ulcer, cancer. It can also occur due to regular use of some over-the-counter pain relievers, especially aspirin.
  • Vitamin deficiency anemia:  The human body needs folate and vitamin B12 to produce enough healthy red blood cells, in addition to iron. A diet lacking in these can cause anemia. Besides, some people consume enough B12 but their bodies are not able to process this vitamin. This can cause what is known as pernicious anemia.
  • Anemia due to chronic diseases: Diseases such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, Crohn's disease and other chronic inflammatory diseases can cause a decrease in the production of red blood cells, causing anemia.
  • Aplastic anemia:  The causes of this form of anemia include infections, certain medicines, autoimmune diseases and exposure to toxic chemicals. It occurs when the body doesn't produce enough red blood cells.
  • Anemias associated with bone marrow disease: This form of anemia occurs when not enough blood cells are produced in the bone marrow due to illnesses such as leukemia and myelofibrosis,
  • Hemolytic anemias: When red blood cells are destroyed faster than bone marrow can replace them, due to certain blood diseases this group of anemias occur. This can also be an inherited condition.
  • Sickle cell anemia: This is an inherited condition caused by a defective form of haemoglobin that forces red blood cells to assume an abnormal crescent or sickle shape. These irregularly shaped blood cells die prematurely, leaving behind a chronic shortage of red blood cells.
  • Other forms of anemias: There are several other forms of anemia, such as thalassemia (in which in which the body makes an abnormal form of haemoglobin) and malarial anemia.

Who is prone to anemia?

Some people are more prone to anemia than others. They include:

  • Premature and low-birth-weight babies
  • Teenagers who are at risk for iron-deficiency anemia if they're underweight
  • Women who of childbearing age are at higher risk for iron-deficiency anemia because of blood loss during their monthly periods.
  • Pregnant women are at higher risk for the condition because they need twice as much iron as usual
  • Adults who have internal bleeding, such as intestinal bleeding, can develop iron-deficiency anemia due to blood loss
  • People who get kidney dialysis treatment may develop iron-deficiency anemia due to blood loss during dialysis
  • People who have gastric bypass surgery also may develop iron-deficiency anemia
  • A person who has a family history of an inherited anemia, such as sickle cell anemia, may be at increased risk of the condition
  • People who have a medical history of certain types of illnesses, such as blood diseases and autoimmune disorders are more prone to anemia
  • People who suffer from alcoholism
  • People who face exposure to toxic chemicals
  • People who use certain medications which can affect red blood cell production and thus lead to anemia
  • People who are over the age of 65 years
  • People who consume a diet that is consistently low in iron, vitamin B12 and folate increases your risk of anemia
  • People of low-income group who eat poorly

What are the causes of anemia?

The main causes of anemia include:

  • Anemia caused by blood loss due to:

    • Gastrointestinal conditions - such as ulcers, haemorrhoids, cancer, or gastritis
    • Use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) - such as aspirin and ibuprofen
    • Menstrual bleeding
  • Anemia caused by decreased or faulty red blood cell productions in the bone marrow due to:

    • Diseases such as leukemia
    • Inherited conditions such as sickle cell anemia
    • Iron deficiency
    • Bone marrow and stem cell problems, for example, thalassemia  which occurs because the body makes an abnormal form of haemoglobin due to which red blood cells can't grow and mature properly
    • Vitamin deficiency such as deficiency of B12
  • Anemia caused by the destruction of red blood cells due to

    • Infections
    • Certain drugs - some antibiotics, for instance
    • Autoimmune attack - for instance hemolytic disease
    • Severe hypertension
    • Clotting disorders

What are the symptoms of anemia? How is anemia diagnosed?

Some patients with anemia display no symptoms. Those who do have symptoms may:

  • become easily fatigued
  • appear pale
  • have a feeling of a heart racing
  • feel short of breath
  • have worsening heart problems.
  • suffer from constant weakness
  • have pale or yellowish skin
  • have irregular heartbeats
  • have shortness of breath
  • suffer from dizziness or lightheadedness
  • have chest pain
  • have cold hands and feet
  • suffer from constant headache
  • suffer from severe hair fall


If you observe any symptoms of anemia, it is advisable that you see your family doctor or a general physician for a diagnosis. Depending on your condition he may refer you to a haematologist. You may be asked by the doctor to undergo certain tests which include:

  • a simple blood test called a complete blood cell count (CBC)
  • special blood tests to detect rare causes of anemia, such as an immune attack on your red blood cells, red blood cell fragility, and defects of enzymes, haemoglobin, and clotting
  • tests to see the reticulocyte count, bilirubin, and other blood and urine tests to determine how quickly your blood cells are being made or if you have a hemolytic anemia, where your red blood cells have a shortened lifespan
  • tests to see the levels of vitamin B12 and folate, which are necessary for red blood cell production
  • in rare cases, a bone marrow test may be done. 
  • Pernicious anemia occurs when the body is unable to absorb any amount of Vitamin B12. 

What are the complications of anemia?

Left untreated, anemia can cause many health problems, such as:

  • severe fatigue
  • pregnancy complications
  • heart problems such as  irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), an enlarged heart or heart failure
  • death

What is the treatment of anemia?

The treatment of anemia will depend upon the cause. Based on your particular condition the doctor will prescribe medicines, maybe blood transfusions or even a bone marrow transplant.

Would you like to consult a doctor for Anemia ?

Patient Experiences

Good Experience During Treatment for Anemia
Good experience. No supplements given. No medicines pills given. Approach is really appreciable. Medical science approach towards Dietetics and nutrition is reliable....Read Less
Doctor in this story :Ms. Nafeesa Imteyaz
First Eat Right Clinic - J.P.Nagar
Aayushi ji
Great Treatment for Anemia
My daughter Ayushi is anaemic and her weight wasn't increasing, someone in my family asked me to consult Dr. Shreyas Bansal , to our surprise , her haemoglobin became normal in two month and she gained 3 kg weight in the same period. Highly recommended...Read Less
Doctor in this story :Dr. Shreyas Bansal
Dr Bansal'S Womens Wellness And Child Care Clinic

Questions answered by trusted doctors

Verified User
My doctor gave me iron pills for one months.. I am having lower back pain and tiredness and I am not hungry at all.. Can u please tell me what is the problem.. I am very tensed.. I searched the Internet and found that anemia may also caused by cancer... That's y m nervous
Dr. Rajesh Jain
General Physician, Jalgaon
It is not like that
Do following...
Wake up early go for morning walk in greenery daily with relaxed mind
Do pranayam and yoga daily
Do meditation regularly
Take dates, jaggery, beet root, green leafy, cheeku etc regularly
Tab practin pearls 30
1 at nt
Tab fersoft Z
1 for 3 mths
Tab Osto calcium
2 per day for 3 months
Tab zentel 1
1 stat
Reconsult after 15 days
Verified User
I have a anemia and external hemorrhoids from 4 years.some times I have bleeding due to hemorrhoids for 2-3 days,then after it becomes normal,but no pain. So,please suggest me how to get relief from this problems especially how can I get relief from anemia. Please help me.
Dr. Harsha
General Physician, Bangalore
Hello there...I can understand your concern. What is the level of your haemoglobin. Because treatment for anemia will depend on the level of your haemoglobin. If it's very less, even iron profile might have to be done. Also the haemorrhoids could be causing the anaemia. So even haemorrhoids should be treated. It's treatment will depend on its grade. In severe cases surgery might be required. So kindly consult a general surgeon for further evaluation and management.
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Did you know?

India tops the list of nations of most anemic women

Iron-deficiency anaemia has remained the top cause of disability in India for 10 years now.

Iron deficiency stats in India

Iron-deficiency anaemia in India is rampant among children below the age of three (78.9 %), followed by women (55 %), and the men follow at 24 %.

Top cause of maternal death

It was the top cause of maternal deaths in India (50 %) and the associate cause in 20 % of maternal deaths according to a 2014 study.

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Home Remedies

Increase Vitamin C Intake

Take plenty of citrus fruits such as oranges, sweet lime, lemons, and grapefruits. Vitamin C can help fortify you from within and at the same time it also helps in the absorption of iron.

Eat More Green Leafy Veggies

High amounts of chlorophyll contained in green vegetables like spinach, mustard greens and broccoli is a good source of iron therefore is a good diet for anemia.

Drink Beetroot and Pomegranate Juice

Pomegranates are rich in iron and beetroots are rich in folic acid. Both these juices combined, can boost your energy levels by supporting healthy blood flow and make you feel more active if you drink regularly.

Take Raisins or Dates

Raisins and dates are rich in iron and vitamin C. Take a handful of raisins and at least 4 dates every day during breakfast. They can give you instant energy.

Drink Water Stored In Copper Vessel

Drink water every morning which was kept overnight in a copper vessel. This helps in replenishing your body with natural minerals and is also known to be very good for treating hair loss.