Anemia is a medical condition in which the red blood cell count or hemoglobin is less than normal. The normal level of hemoglobin is generally different in males and females. For men, a normal hemoglobin level is typically defined as a level of more than 13.5 gram/100 ml, and in women as hemoglobin of more than 12.0 gram/100 ml. These definitions may vary slightly depending on the source and the laboratory reference used.
Any process that can disrupt the normal life span of a red blood cell may cause anemia. Normal life span of a red blood cell is typically around 120 days. Red blood cells are made in the bone marrow.
Anemia is caused essentially through two basic pathways. Anemia is caused by either:
- A decrease in production of red blood cells or hemoglobin, or
- An increase in loss or destruction of red blood cells.
A more common classification of anemia (low hemoglobin) is based on the Mean Corposcular Volume (MCV) which signifies the average volume of individual red blood cells.
- If the MCV is low (less than 80), the anemia is categorized as microcytic anemia (low cell volume).
- If the MCV is in the normal range (80-100), it is called a normocytic anemia (normal cell volume).
- If the MCV is high, then it is called a macrocytic anemia (large cell volume).
Symptoms of anemia may include the following:
- decreased energy
- shortness of breath
- palpitations (feeling of the heart racing or beating irregularly)
- looking pale.
Symptoms of severe anemia may include:
- Chest pain, angina, or heart attack
- Fainting or passing out
- Rapid heart rate.
Anemia treatment depends on the cause.
Iron deficiency anemia Treatment for this form of anemia usually involves taking iron supplements and making changes to your diet.
If the underlying cause of iron deficiency is loss of blood — other than from menstruation — the source of the bleeding must be located and stopped. This may involve surgery.
Vitamin deficiency anemias Treatment for folic acid and B-12 deficiency involves dietary supplements and increasing these nutrients in your diet.
If your digestive system has trouble absorbing vitamin B-12 from the food you eat, you may need vitamin B-12 shots. At first, you may receive the shots every other day. Eventually, you'll need shots just once a month, which may continue for life, depending on your situation.
Anemia of chronic disease There's no specific treatment for this type of anemia. Doctors focus on treating the underlying disease. If symptoms become severe, a blood transfusion or injections of synthetic erythropoietin, a hormone normally produced by your kidneys, may help stimulate red blood cell production and ease fatigue.
Aplastic anemia Treatment for this anemia may include blood transfusions to boost levels of red blood cells. You may need a bone marrow transplant if your bone marrow is diseased and can't make healthy blood cells.
Anemias associated with bone marrow disease. Treatment of these various diseases can include medication, chemotherapy or bone marrow transplantation. Hemolytic anemias. Managing hemolytic anemias includes avoiding suspect medications, treating related infections and taking drugs that suppress your immune system, which may be attacking your red blood cells.
Depending on the severity of your anemia, a blood transfusion or plasmapheresis may be necessary. Plasmapheresis is a type of blood-filtering procedure. In certain cases, removal of the spleen can be helpful.
Sickle cell anemia Treatment for this anemia may include the administration of oxygen, pain-relieving drugs, and oral and intravenous fluids to reduce pain and prevent complications. Doctors also may recommend blood transfusions, folic acid supplements and antibiotics.
A bone marrow transplant may be an effective treatment in some circumstances. A cancer drug called hydroxyurea (Droxia, Hydrea) also is used to treat sickle cell anemia.
Thalassemia This anemia may be treated with blood transfusions, folic acid supplements, medication, removal of the spleen (splenectomy), or a blood and bone marrow stem cell transplant.