We all get tired. Sure, there may even be days that you slogged through desperate to see your warm and welcoming bed at the end of a long day. But what if you always feel tired, fatigued or just plain off?
Anemia can be a serious condition that brings on many different symptoms. If you’re concerned you may be more than just tired, spend a few minutes learning about anemia. Then, schedule an appointment with your doctor so you can get to the bottom of what’s causing your symptoms.
Understanding Anemia’s Importance
Anemia is a blood condition that happens when there are not enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to the rest of your body. It’s the most common blood disorder, affecting as many as 3 million Americans.
Anemia that is untreated can lead to many different health problems. Without enough red blood cells, the body is placed under more stress which can affect your lungs, heart, brain, kidneys and other vital organs. These can all lead to long term health problems and, in worst cases, even death.
There are many different types of anemia (as many as 400). Many conditions can cause it, but the most common include:
- Heavy periods
- Colon polyps or cancer
- A diet low in iron, folic acid or vitamin B12
- Blood disorders (sickle cell anemia, thalassemia, blood cancers)
- Inherited disorders
- Aplastic anemia
- Trauma or Surgery
Is Anemia The Same as Iron Deficiency?
Anemia and iron deficiency are sometimes confused as the same thing. The reality is that these are two separate conditions. Anemia occurs when your body doesn’t make enough hemoglobin (the protein in your red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout your body). Iron deficiency occurs when your body doesn’t have enough iron due to blood loss, diet, or poor absorption.
You can be iron deficient without being anemic. However (and to make matters even more confusing), iron-deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia. This happens when low iron levels keep your body from making enough hemoglobin.
Your doctor will do a thorough workup to identify if you have iron-deficiency anemia or iron deficiency without anemia.
The most noticeable symptom of anemia is feeling tired or weak. This is because your body is not getting enough oxygen due to lack of red blood cells. Sometimes, symptoms can come on gradually or aren’t even noticeable. You may experience the following signs of anemia – or none if your condition isn’t severe:
- Pale or yellowish skin
- Irregular heartbeats
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Chest pain
- Cold hands and feet
- Restless legs at night
How To Diagnose
If you’re experiencing any concerning symptoms or notice you’re more tired than usual, schedule an appointment with your doctor. They’ll ask about your symptoms and your personal and family medical history.
You’ll also need a blood test call a complete blood count (CBC). This test counts the number of blood cells in your blood, including red blood cells and hemoglobin. A low count may indicate you have anemia.
Once confirmed, you likely will need additional testing to determine the root cause, but your doctor will help you step by step.
Fortunately, there are many effective ways to treat anemia and even prevent the condition from reappearing. Your treatment will depend on your diagnosis, including the type of anemia you have. Treatment may include:
- Iron supplements/transfusions
- Dietary supplements (folic acid or vitamin B12)
- Eating more foods high in iron, folic acid and vitamin B12
- Managing underlying conditions
- Blood transfusions
Written by: Dr. Grove – Dr. Grove is a board-certified Family Physician who received his medical degree from Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University (Dayton, OH). While there, he also earned his graduate certificate in Bioethics. He completed a Family Medicine Residency at Carolinas Medical Center, Atrium Health (Charlotte, NC), simultaneously earning his Integrative Medicine Certificate and area of concentration in Global Health.
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