1. Simmons, Susan PhD, RN, ARNP-BC

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What is anemia?

Anemia means that you don't have enough red blood cells in your blood or that these cells don't work right. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, which helps carry oxygen throughout the body. If you have anemia, your body won't get all the oxygen it needs and you may feel "run down." Common symptoms include fatigue, heart palpitations or a fast heartbeat, chest pain, shortness of breath, light-headedness, headache, and weakness. But some people don't have any symptoms at first, and anemia may be discovered from a routine blood test.


How do I know I have anemia?

Your healthcare provider will ask you about your health history and examine you. A sample of your blood will be taken to check your red blood cells and hemoglobin. Your healthcare provider will test your stool for hidden blood; you may not know you have slow internal bleeding that's causing your anemia.


Your healthcare provider will also do tests to find out what type of anemia you have.

Table. What causes a... - Click to enlarge in new windowTable. What causes anemia and how is it treated?

How is anemia treated?

Treatment depends on the cause. (See What causes anemia and how is it treated?) If you have iron-deficiency anemia, your healthcare provider will want you to eat more iron-rich foods, such as liver, whole-grain breads and cereals, eggs, and dark green vegetables. You may also need an iron supplement. If your anemia is severe, blood transfusions may help.