What is Anemia and Who is at Risk?

Sickle Cell Anemia

What is Anemia and Who is at Risk?

Anemia affects more than three million Americans, making it the most common blood disorder, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

People with anemia lack red blood cells, or do not have enough red blood cells. Red blood cells carry an iron-rich protein called hemoglobin. This protein attaches to oxygen in the lungs and carries it to other tissues throughout the body.

Because anemia causes a lack of oxygen in the blood, symptoms might include weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness, headache, chest pain or pale skin. The signs and symptoms of anemia are easily overlooked, so many people only know they have anemia after it has been identified in a blood test.

The cause of anemia is what determines a person’s specific diagnosis.

  • Iron-deficiency anemia is the most common form of anemia. It occurs when there’s a lack of iron in the blood, usually caused by blood loss or poor iron absorption.
  • Vitamin-deficient anemia is usually the result of poor dietary intake of vitamin B12 (folic acid). However, if someone suffers from pernicious anemia, vitamin B12 cannot be properly absorbed.

Other types of anemia include aplastic anemia, hemolytic anemia and sickle cell anemia. Anemia could also be caused by other diseases that affect the body’s ability to make red blood cells.

Risk Factors

Anemia occurs across all ages, genders and ethnic groups, but there are certain factors that raise your risk for anemia.

Women of childbearing age are at a higher risk for anemia because of blood loss from menstruation, and anemia can develop during pregnancy because of changes in the blood. Infants and elderly adults are also at a higher risk for developing anemia.

You should be especially vigilant if you have any of the following risk factors:

  • A family history of inherited anemia (sickle cell anemia or thalassemia)
  • Intestinal disorders
  • Infections
  • Chronic conditions, such as kidney disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases, etc.
  • A diet low in iron, vitamins or minerals

The doctors at Hematology and Oncology Consultants of Pennsylvania focus on problems of the blood, including anemia. If you are experiencing symptoms of anemia, or if you’re at a high risk for the disease, we encourage you to contact us.