Anemia — a disease defined by not having enough healthy red blood cells — means your organs and other tissues aren’t getting the normal amount of oxygen. It sounds important, of course. But the symptoms of anemia depend on the severity of the condition and the type of anemia you have.
Many people with mild anemia actually have no signs or symptoms at all. Or if they did, they might attribute some of it to other reasons. Fatigue is an often overlooked symptom of anemia.
But as anemia worsens or becomes severe, it can cause a range of severe symptoms, such as dizziness or shortness of breath. Complications, such as heart problems, can be life-threatening.
This article discusses the many signs and symptoms of anemia, including those that tend to occur only in certain types and possible complications.
Anemia means a decrease in red blood cells, or hemoglobin in these cells, which are needed to carry oxygen throughout the body. Signs and symptoms of anemia tend to increase gradually as the anemia worsens.
Common symptoms of any type of anemia include:
- tiredness or lack of energy
- pale complexion
- yellow skin
These symptoms can occur regardless of the severity of the anemia, but tend to be more intense in severe anemia.
As anemia progresses, you may experience other symptoms, such as:
- increased thirst
- easy bruising
- Tongue pain
- Calf cramps during exercise
- decreased exercise tolerance
Because the symptoms of anemia are gradual and similar to those of other diseases, they are often overlooked.
If you have severe anemia, you may also have more severe symptoms, such as:
- shortness of breath (Difficulty breathing)
- fainting or near fainting
- Shortness of breath(Shortness of breath)
- rapid heartbeat (Tachycardia)
- arrhythmia (Arrhythmia)
Since anemia can cause insufficient oxygen around the body, the brain can also be deprived, which can sometimes lead to brain damage.
Common general symptoms, such as fatigue and weakness, gradually worsen as the anemia worsens and can occur with any type of anemia.
Find out why your red blood cell function may be impaired
specific types of symptoms
Iron-deficiency anemia, or anemia due to iron deficiency, and many rare types of anemia also have specific types of symptoms.
iron deficiency anemia
Iron deficiency anemia is the most common form of anemia. Your body needs iron to make healthy red blood cells, and iron deficiency can result from blood loss, not eating enough iron-rich foods, or conditions that affect the absorption of iron from foods.
Some other symptoms usually seen only in iron deficiency anemia are:
- cold hands and feet
- brittle nails
- Pica, or the desire to eat nonfood substances such as paper, clay, and paint chips
Vitamin-deficiency anemia occurs when the body cannot make enough healthy red blood cells due to low levels of certain vitamins. A rare form of vitamin-deficiency anemia called pernicious anemia is the result of an inability to absorb vitamin B12.
Pernicious anemia is usually caused by an autoimmune disease, in which the immune system mistakenly attacks cells in the stomach and makes the protein needed to move and absorb B12.
Symptoms of pernicious anemia include:
- A tingling, tingling sensation (also called a “pinprick” or feeling abnormal)
- muscle weakness
- Ataxia: Inability to coordinate and control muscle movements voluntarily, which affects eye movements, speech, and swallowing
- Digestive problems such as bloating, nausea, and loss of appetite
- enlarged liver
Symptoms of severe pernicious anemia may also include:
- memory problems or dementia
Hemolytic anemia is when red blood cells are destroyed faster than they can be made.
This rare form of anemia can be caused by an inherited blood disorder, such as sickle cell anemia, or an immune response that causes the immune system to mistakenly attack red blood cells or healthy tissue.
Symptoms of hemolytic anemia include:
- upper abdominal pain
- brown or reddish urine
plastic Anemia is when your blood-forming organs, such as the bone marrow, stop producing enough red blood cells.
Aplastic anemia also has its own unique and uncommon signs and symptoms. These range from mild to very severe. They include:
- frequent infections
- easy bleeding
- Tiny round red spots on the skin caused by bleeding from small blood vessels (petechiae)
- blood in stool
- heavy bleeding during menstruation
- Kidneys, heart, lungs, digestive tract, arms and hands (specific to Fanconi anemia, a type of aplastic anemia)
Signs and symptoms vary widely depending on the type and severity of anemia. Cravings for nonfood substances and brittle nails can be signs of iron deficiency anemia. Pernicious anemia can cause muscle weakness or tingling.
Red blood cells play an important role in supplying oxygen to the body, so when their levels drop, it can lead to a range of complications, especially if the anemia becomes severe.
Anemia can also worsen other underlying medical conditions and reduce the effectiveness of treatment.
In anemia, the heart has to work harder than usual to make up for the lack of hemoglobin-rich red blood cells.
It pumps harder to ensure oxygen-laden blood moves around the body.
This extra work can stress your heart and lead to complications like a heart murmur, hypertrophy of the heart (increase the size of the heart muscle) and heart failure.
Also, anemia during pregnancy is not uncommon, especially in the second and third trimesters.
However, if the condition is severe and poorly managed, it can lead to low birth weight or premature birth of the baby.
It may also increase your baby’s risk of developing anemia in infancy. Additionally, anemia puts you at risk for blood loss during labor.
Nerve damage in some forms of anemia, such as pernicious anemia, can lead to depression.
Women with iron-deficiency anemia during pregnancy also have an increased risk of developing postpartum depression or developing depression within the first year after delivery.
weakened immune system
Iron deficiency anemia can damage your immune system, making you more susceptible to infections and reducing your body’s ability to fight them.
restless legs syndrome
restless legs syndrome, also known as Willis-Ekbon diseases, especially complications of iron-deficiency anemia.
It’s a neurological disorder that creates an irresistible urge to move your legs. This is usually felt at night and at night.
Numerous studies have shown that iron is required for normal brain development. Severe iron-deficiency anemia in infancy and childhood can cause mental, cognitive, and motor developmental delays.
Anemia, especially severe anemia, can strain your heart, weaken your immune system, and lead to other complications. It can lead to pregnancy complications or developmental problems in infancy and childhood.
When to see a healthcare provider
If you have been diagnosed with anemia and have worsening symptoms such as chest pain, difficulty breathing, fast or irregular heartbeat, go to the hospital right away. If possible, ask someone else to drive you. You may experience heart problems, including heart failure.
In addition to this, the following are guaranteed appointments to see your healthcare provider:
- You have been diagnosed with an underlying medical condition that can cause anemia (eg, kidney disease, HIV/AIDS, cancer, or Crohn’s disease) and you notice signs or symptoms of anemia
- You have a family history of inherited anemia (consider genetic testing and counseling)
- You have multiple symptoms of anemia; this may be a sign of a more serious or chronic disease such as cancer or chronic internal bleeding
Anemia can cause a range of signs and symptoms, depending on the type, cause, and severity.
Symptoms may include tiredness, weakness, pale or yellow skin, feeling cold, or dizzy.
Seek medical attention if you have signs or symptoms of anemia, especially if you have any severe symptoms (such as trouble breathing or fainting).
Anemia can be a serious condition, and you must follow your healthcare provider’s directions and recommendations about diet, medications, exercise, and other lifestyle choices to prevent complications.
If you have been diagnosed with anemia, tell your healthcare provider if you have any new symptoms or a significant increase in existing symptoms.
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