Insufficient Red Blood Cells and Hemoglobin

Anemia is a condition that affects your red blood cells and hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the iron-rich protein in red blood cells that distributes oxygen from your lungs to your tissues. Anemia occurs when you don’t make enough red blood cells or your body destroys them faster than they can be produced. It can also occur when you have ongoing blood loss (i.e. bleeding).

There are several types of anemia, including:

  • Anemia in pregnancy – happens when you don’t produce enough healthy red blood cells to distribute sufficient oxygen to your baby and your body’s tissues
  • Anemia of inflammation – caused by acute or chronic inflammatory diseases such as HIV, AIDS, kidney disease or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Aplastic anemia – occurs when your bone marrow stops making enough blood cells
  • Hemolytic anemia – caused by autoimmune disorders or certain medications
  • Inherited anemias – include sickle cell anemia, thalassemia, hereditary spherocytosis, hemoglobinopathies, pyruvate kinase deficiency and G6PD deficiency
  • Iron deficiency anemia – occurs when your body doesn’t produce enough iron
  • Vitamin deficiency anemia – caused by low vitamin B-12 and folate

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Outlook

Excessive fatigue or overwhelming tiredness are the most common signs of anemia. Other symptoms include:

  • Brittle nails
  • Cold feet and hands
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Pale skin
  • Rapid or uneven heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unusual food cravings
  • Weakness

Diagnosing anemia starts with a physical exam and a review of your personal and family medical history. Testing for anemia may include blood work to measure:

  • Complete blood count (CBC) – the size and number of red and white blood cells and platelets
  • Folic acid and vitamin B-12 test – the amount of folate and vitamin B-12
  • Serum iron profile – a test for iron deficiency when present anemia

The long-term outlook for anemia depends on its cause and severity, but the prognosis is typically good with proper care. The condition can have serious health consequences if left untreated.

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Why Choose Penn State Health for Care

Comprehensive, Compassionate Care

The experts at Penn State Health have extensive experience treating hereditary and acquired anemias. Our comprehensive Sickle Cell Clinic provides a full range of treatment options for sickle cell disease.

Our infusion capabilities allow us to rapidly treat iron deficiency and provide safe red blood cell transfusions when needed. We can recommend and deliver red cell exchange treatment if it is appropriate for your condition. Our perioperative treatment of anemia improves surgical outcomes and can help you return to health faster and with fewer complications.

Our medical team is consistently recognized nationally through the Best Doctors in America and America’s Top Doctors awards. Our specialists also participate in worldwide conferences and speaking engagements in countries including India, Korea, Germany and Japan, among others.

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