Categories: Oncology

What is anemia, causes & symptoms of anemia?


The World Health Organization defines anemia as “a condition in which the number of blood cells or their oxygen-carrying capacity is insufficient to meet physiologic needs, which vary by age, sex, attitude, smoking, and pregnancy status.”

The causes

Iron deficiency is regarded as the most common cause of anemia across the world. In addition to these, other factors contribute to anemia. Let’s take a look at some of the common causes of anemia.

Iron-deficiency anemia     

As the name suggests, the condition is caused by the lack of iron in the blood. As a result, the body doesn’t produce enough hemoglobin which enables the blood cells to carry oxygen.

The most common symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia are poor mental performance, fatigue, poor appetite, and exercise-associated shortness of breath and craving to eat unusual objects like chalk, mud, etc. called pica. Other symptoms include pale skin, restless leg syndrome (compulsion to move legs while at rest), headache, faster heartbeats, rarely cold hands and feet inflammation of the tongue. In the long term, untreated iron deficiency can cause cognitive disabilities and growth stunting and menstrual irregularities.

This condition can easily be treated with iron supplements.

Aplastic anemia

A rare but serious anomaly, aplastic anemia can develop at any age. In this condition, the bone marrow which is the site of production of blood cells stops making enough blood cells. Hence, there is a severe deficiency of red, white blood cells, and platelets.

While a lot of symptoms of aplastic anemia are similar to those of as iron deficiency such as fatigue, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeats, etc., certain other conditions of aplastic anemia include nosebleeds and bleeding gums, prolonged bleeding from cuts, inexplicable bruising, skin rash and severe infections.

This condition should be treated as an emergency, before the onset of infections and dependence on blood products and resistance to the same. It can be cured with Bone marrow transplantation or immunosuppressive therapy.

Sickle cell anemia

It’s an inherited form of anemia. However, treatment is available to relieve the pain and other complications that come along with the disease. The name is derived from the shape – that of a sickle – the affected red cells acquire. Moreover, these cells tend to be rigid and sticky too. As a result, they get stuck in small blood vessels and thus slow down/block blood flow and oxygen to other parts of the body.

Besides being anemic, a person with sickle cell anemia will experience the following symptoms as well: bouts of pain, swelling of hands and feet often with pain, vision problems, frequent infections, and delayed growth.

This condition should be treated before the onset of complications. Hydroxyurea with folic acid helps reduce the onset of symptoms and complications. The only known curative treatment currently recommended is bone marrow transplantation.

Vitamin-deficiency anemia

If your body has difficulty absorbing or processing certain vitamins from the food you eat, it causes a deficiency of healthy red blood cells in the body. The vitamins linked to vitamin deficiency anemia include vitamin C, folate, and vitamin B-12.

The physical symptoms of vitamin-deficiency anemia are more or less the same as other forms of anemia. However, the condition is known to affect one’s mental faculty as well as causing personality changes, forgetfulness, and confusion. It also contributes to unsteady movements, muscle weakness, and weight loss.

Supplementation of the deficient vitamins is the curative measure along with dietary modifications.


It’s a genetic blood disorder that causes the body to have less than sufficient hemoglobin. Thalassemia, therefore, causes fatigue. There are mainly two types of thalassemia. One is too mild to require treatment whereas the severe form of thalassemia needs to be treated.

Certain symptoms of thalassemia are similar to other forms of anemia. Other symptoms include facial bone deformities, slow growth, abdominal swelling, and dark urine.

The only curative treatment currently available is bone marrow transplantation which should be planned as soon as the diagnosis is made and executed as early as 2 years of age. Until the curative treatment is provided patients have to take regular 3-4 weekly red blood cell transfusion, Folic acid, vitamin D, and C supplements and iron chelation.

As they say, knowledge is power. To know about diseases and symptoms empower us to understand the changes that occur in our body and take preventive measures on time.

Dr. Shobha Badiger | Bone Marrow Transplant, Haemato Oncology, Oncology, Paediatric Oncology | Mazumdar Shaw Medical Center, Bommasandra

Narayana Health

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