Pinky Ronen, M.D.
Anemia is the term doctors and nurses use when a person has too few red blood cells. Red blood cells are the cells in your blood that carry oxygen. If you have too few red blood cells, your body does not get all the oxygen it needs.
Anemia can happen for a few reasons. The most common reason is a lack of iron. This is called “iron deficiency anemia.” You can have too little iron because:
In pregnancy anemia can be caused by the dilution of the blood resulting from the accumulation of fluids in the vascular system. This is referd to as physiologic anemia of pregnancy.
Many people with iron deficiency anemia have no symptoms. People who do have symptoms might:
Yes, your doctor or nurse can test your blood for anemia. It shows up on routine blood tests, such as the “complete blood count,” often called a “CBC.”
The first step in treatment is to find out whether your anemia is caused by blood loss. If so, your doctor or nurse will want to find out why you are bleeding. Then he or she will suggest ways to stop or slow the bleeding.
In women, blood loss is often tied to heavy periods. In men, and in women who no longer have periods, blood loss can be tied to stomach ulcers or bowel problems.
Whatever the cause of your anemia, your doctor or nurse can treat it with iron in pills or shots. If the anemia is severe, you might need a blood transfusion.
Most people with iron deficiency anemia need to take extra iron. Eating foods with iron will not do enough to cure the anemia. The iron used in treatment can come in pills or as a shot. Most people get it in pills. Your doctor or nurse will tell you how much to take, and for how long.
Iron pills can cause side effects such as upset stomach and constipation (too few bowel movements). If you have side effects, do not stop taking the iron. Instead, ask your doctor or nurse what to do. He or she can suggest ways to reduce these side effects.