With an estimated 3 million cases, anemia is the most common blood disorder in the United States.1 Even so, some of your patients may be unclear about what exactly the condition is and how it’s managed. Here are 10 things about anemia you may want to share with them (or remind them of).
1. Anemia is marked by a deficiency of healthy red blood cells
Anemia is a condition in which an individual has too few healthy red blood cells to carry sufficient oxygen to the body’s organs. As a result, a person who is anemic may feel exhausted or weak.2
2. Iron deficiency anemia is the most common form
There are several types of anemia — aplastic, sickle cell, and thalassemia, to name a few — but none more often observed than iron deficiency anemia. As the name suggests, iron deficiency anemia occurs on account of insufficient iron, without which the body can’t produce enough hemoglobin for red blood cells.2
3. Low iron levels are a likely cause
Anemia is most often caused by iron deficiency. Low iron levels can be due to blood loss, a diet lacking in iron, pregnancy, and other factors.
Other types of anemia may be caused by1:
- A diet lacking in folic acid (folate deficiency anemia)
- A diet lacking in vitamin B12 (pernicious anemia)
- An inherited blood disorder (sickle cell anemia or thalassemia)
- A condition that causes red blood cells to die off too quickly (hemolytic anemia)
- A chronic condition such as lupus that limits red blood cell production
4. Because iron levels matter, diet is important
A diet rich in iron can help stave off iron deficiency anemia, while a diet rich in vitamins B12 and C can help prevent vitamin deficiency anemias. Advise your patients to1:
- Eat beef, meats, lentils, leafy vegetables, and dried fruits (for iron deficiency anemia)
- Avoid junk foods, as they lack essential nutrients
- Consume limited amounts of fiber
- Avoid taking calcium and iron supplements simultaneously
- Steer clear of coffee and tea
- Discuss their diet with you
5. Fatigue is one, but not the only, symptom of iron deficiency
Anemia is often associated with fatigue, but there are other potential indicators, such as3:
- Frequent infections
- Swelling in the tongue
- Hair loss
- Restless leg syndrome
- Pale skin
6. Women are at increased risk for anemia
Anemia is 10 times more likely to occur in women, and approximately 1 in 5 women develop the condition. This is largely due to loss of blood during menstruation.4
Other groups of individuals who may be at an elevated risk include:
- People aged 65 and older
- Infants born prematurely
- People with chronic conditions
- People with a diet low in iron
7. Anemia is more likely to occur during pregnancy
During pregnancy, the body produces 20-30% more blood to supply oxygen to the baby. However, that’s not always enough of an increase to maintain healthy hemoglobin levels. As a result, anemia is fairly common during pregnancy.5
8. There is such a thing as donating too much blood
Donating blood is essential to community health, but there exist rules for how often blood can be donated for good reason. In fact, frequent blood donors have an increased risk for iron deficiency anemia because donating too much blood can deplete iron stores.6
9. Treatments vary significantly
Depending on the cause and severity of the condition, treatments range. Iron deficiency anemia, for instance, is often treated with iron supplements and dietary changes. In the event red blood cell and hemoglobin counts dip significantly, blood transfusions and bone marrow transplants may be advised.2
10. Anemia can be managed
Remind your patients that, despite its risks, anemia can be managed by taking steps such as1:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
- Staying hydrated
- Washing hands to avoid infection
- Practicing good dental hygiene
- Discussing symptoms with you
- Tracking symptoms
1. Anemia. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/3929-anemia. Reviewed April 6, 2020. Accessed June 23, 2021.
2. Anemia. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20351360. August 16, 2019. Accessed June 23, 2021.
3. Welch A. 7 unusual signs of iron deficiency. Everyday Health. https://www.everydayhealth.com/news/unusual-signs-iron-deficiency/. Updated October 25, 2017. Accessed June 23, 2021.
4. Five fast facts about anemia. GoHealth Urgent Care. https://www.gohealthuc.com/library/five-fast-facts-about-anemia. Accessed June 23, 2021.
5. Anemia and pregnancy. American Society of Hematology. https://www.hematology.org/education/patients/anemia/pregnancy. Accessed June 23, 2021.
6. Vroomen Durning M. Anemia: 9 things doctors want you to know. Healthgrades. https://www.healthgrades.com/right-care/blood-conditions/anemia-9-things-doctors-want-you-to-know. Updated November 10, 2020. Accessed June 23, 2021.