Diseases & Conditions


What is anemia?

Anemia is a blood disorder that occurs when there is not enough hemoglobin in a person’s blood. Hemoglobin is a substance in the red blood cells that makes it possible for the blood to transport (carry) oxygen through the body. When a person develops anemia, he or she is said to be “anemic.”

There are a number of different types of anemia. Some types present only mild health problems, while others are much more severe. Each type of anemia results from one of these factors:

  • The body cannot make enough hemoglobin.
  • The body makes hemoglobin, but the hemoglobin doesn’t work right.
  • The body does not make enough red blood cells.
  • The body breaks down red blood cells too fast.

What are the symptoms of anemia?

There are a number of symptoms that are common in all types of anemia, including:

  • Feeling tired
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Feeling cold
  • Weakness
  • Pale skin

What causes anemia?

A lack of iron in the body is the most common cause of anemia. This type of anemia is called iron-deficiency anemia. Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin. Without the needed amount of iron, your body cannot make hemoglobin. Factors that can decrease your body’s stores of iron include: 

  • Blood loss (caused within the body by ulcers, some cancers, and other conditions; and, in women, during monthly periods);
  • An iron-poor diet;
  • An increase in the body’s need for iron (in women during pregnancy).

Can iron-deficiency anemia be treated?

Yes. This type of anemia can be treated and cured. First, your health care provider will determine if the anemia is being caused by a poor diet or a more serious health problem. Then, you can be treated for both the anemia and its cause. Iron-deficiency anemia is treated with:

  • Iron supplements taken by mouth
  • Foods high in iron
  • Intravenous (IV) iron therapy

What food are high in iron?

The following foods are good sources of iron:

  • Oysters
  • Kidney beans
  • Beef liver
  • Tofu
  • Beef (chuck roast, lean ground beef)
  • Turkey leg
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Tuna
  • Eggs
  • Shrimp
  • Peanut butter
  • Leg-of-lamb
  • Brown rice
  • Raisin bran (enriched)
  • Molasses

Who is most likely to develop iron-deficiency anemia?

Anyone can develop iron-deficiency anemia, although the following groups have a higher risk:

  • Women: Blood loss during monthly periods and childbirth can lead to anemia.
  • Children, ages 1 to 2: The body needs more iron during growth spurts.
  • Infants: Infants may get less iron when they are weaned from breast milk or formula to solid food. Iron from solid food is not as easily taken up by the body.
  • People over 65: People over 65 are more likely to have iron-poor diets.
  • People on blood thinners.

If I am pregnant, should I be concerned about anemia?

Yes. If you are pregnant, you are more likely to develop iron-deficiency anemia. Your unborn baby relies on you for iron and other nutrients. Many women who are pregnant take iron pills to prevent anemia.

To make sure that you have enough iron for you and your baby, eat well-balanced meals and follow your health care provider’s instructions for taking vitamins and adding iron to your diet.

Are these different types of anemia?

Yes. Iron-deficiency anemia is just one type of anemia. Other types of anemia are caused by:

  • Diets lacking in vitamin B12 (or, the body is unable to use, or absorb B12);
  • Diets lacking in folic acid (or, the body is unable to use folic acid);
  • Inherited blood disorders;
  • Conditions that cause red blood cells to break down too fast (either from toxic substances or from blood disorders).

How can I know if I have anemia?

Your health care provider can perform blood tests to tell if you have anemia. The type and number of blood tests will depend on what type of anemia is suspected. Your healthcare provider will determine the proper treatment, depending on the type of anemia and its cause.

What are the different types of anemia?

The following chart describes some of the different types of anemia, their causes, and the related blood factors:

Types of Anemia Causes Factors
Iron-deficiency anemia Blood loss, lack of iron in the diet. Body cannot make enough red blood cells.
Pernicious anemia Body is unable to absorb vitamin B12. Body cannot make enough red blood cells.
Folic acid-deficiency anemia Lack of folic acid in the diet, body is unable to use folic acid or caused by an illness. Body cannot make enough red blood cells.
Hemolytic anemia Inherited or acquired diseases that causes the red blood cells to be deformed; or a result of another inherited blood disorder, harmful substances, and some drugs taken for illnesses. Body breaks down red blood cells too fast.
Sickle cell anemia Inherited disease; red blood cells become sickle-shaped. Hemoglobin doesn't work right; the shape of the red blood cells causes them to clog blood vessels and break down easily.

© Copyright 2017 Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. All rights reserved.

This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, part of Mubadala Healthcare, and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

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