Anemia Causes & Risk Factors

Published: April 15, 2010

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What Are the Causes?

Anemia occurs when the red blood cells are unable to transport a sufficient amount of oxygen to the tissues in the body. As a result, people who are anemic will experience varying levels of exhaustion, even if they are well rested. Anemic patients may also have trouble concentrating and show unexplained signs of malnutrition, even if they are eating a healthy and balanced diet.

There are two causes of anemia: (1) the body is not producing enough red blood cells, and (2) there is a hemoglobin deficiency. Hemoglobin is the protein that is responsible for transporting oxygen to the tissues in the body. Hemoglobin is located within the red blood cells and binds with oxygen to facilitate transport. When there is a hemoglobin or red blood cell deficiency, oxygen cannot travel through the body to the tissues.

With people who are anemic, the body must work harder to deliver oxygen to the tissues. Depending on the extent of the anemia, a person might experience symptoms that range in severity: people with anemia can feel slightly tired or extremely fatigued. Anemia can also cause a person to experience weakness, memory loss, problems thinking, coldness, constipation, tingling, irritability, blood loss, deficient red blood cell production, and blood cell destruction.

One possible cause of anemia is blood loss. You may lose blood after an injury or accident, and if you are a woman, you may lose blood during your menstrual cycle or while you are pregnant. Sometimes, the blood loss that causes these types of anemia will require immediate treatment in the form of a blood transfusion.

Blood cell destruction can also cause anemia. Some injuries and sicknesses such as cancer and blood disorders can result in the destruction of red blood cells. When the red blood cell supply becomes lowered, a person might start to develop anemia. In many situations, the development of anemia can be reversed or treated with medications, dietary changes, and basic supplements.

Other causes of anemia include heredity, problems with bone marrow, malformed red blood cells, autoimmune attacks, vitamin deficiency, tumors, and pregnancy. Aplastic anemia occurs when the bone marrow cannot create an adequate number of red blood cells. Some premature infants develop anemia because of underdeveloped protein levels. Sickle-cell anemia is a genetic disorder that causes abnormally shaped red blood cells. With autoimmune disorders, the body will attack its own red blood cells.

It is possible to develop anemia as a result of diet. If you consume a diet that is low in iron, folic acid, or vitamin B12, then you may develop anemia as a result.

Who's at Risk?

Anyone can develop anemia for a number of reasons. The groups that are highest at risk include pregnant women, people who do not eat a healthy diet, cancer patients, individuals with blood disorders, and people with a family history of sick-cell anemia. Even if you take precautionary measures and eat a healthy diet, anemia is still possible. If you experience fatigue that you cannot explain - if you eat balanced meals and are well rested-then you should see a doctor as soon as possible for diagnostic blood tests and treatment.

  • During pregnancy, a woman is at high risk for anemia since she loses a higher level of iron due to expanding volumes of blood. Pregnant women are likely to experience symptoms in the heart, lowered immunity, diminished physical or mental performance, and exhaustion. These problems can impair the child's development, causing premature birth, infections, and death, so it is important that pregnant someone see a doctor for routine care.
  • People who do not eat a healthy diet may develop anemia due to insufficient iron and vitamin B12 intake. If dietary habits are not corrected, symptoms can worsen over time.
  • Sickle-cell anemia is common among people who descended from areas where malaria is common, such as tropical regions and Sub-Saharan Africa. The condition is genetic and is most problematic when a person inherits two sickle-cell genes. One sickle-cell gene can actually help people survive, as people with sickle-cell genes are resistant to malaria. Sickle-cell anemia causes a variety of complications that include infections, stroke, ulcers, kidney problems, jaundice, high blood pressure, and protein loss in the urine. In general, symptoms of sick-cell anemia first become present in childhood. The condition is comparatively rare in the United States.

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