Anemia Tests & Diagnosis

May 7th 2016


The doctor will ask you a variety of questions about your general health. Be aware of your symptoms before you go to the doctor so that you are able to provide accurate and precise answers. The doctor may ask you questions about your lifestyle, diet, exercise routine, general health, happiness levels, and fatigue.

Pay attention to whether you have experienced dizziness, heart palpitations, fatigue, nausea, headaches or coughs. You should also mention whether you have experienced any unexplained weight loss or high blood pressure. Based on your answers, the doctor will perform relevant tests to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

The doctor will also want to determine whether you are at-risk for immediate complications. Serious cases of anemia can cause extremely low oxygen levels, resulting in a heart attack. If you go to a doctor for a medical emergency after a fainting spell or injury, you should take precautions to recognize whether you are experiencing any pain, numbness, heaviness, or weakness.

Physical Examination

The first level of testing involves a physical examination. A doctor will check for symptoms including pale skin, rapid heart rate, palpitations, dizziness, diminished concentration, weakness, and jaundice. The doctor will begin by checking the skin, eyes, and gums for any discoloration.

The doctor will want to listen to the lungs and heartbeat to assess abnormalities in breathing and heart rate. Rapid heartbeat, irregular heartbeat, and uneven breathing patterns are signs of anemia.

A doctor might choose to conduct a more extensive physical examination such as a pelvic or rectal exam to diagnose internal bleeding. A doctor might also decide to feel the patient's abdominal area to assess pain levels and to determine whether the liver and spleen are enlarged.

A physical examination can help a doctor identity what is causing the patient's anemia. Depending on initial findings, a doctor might require additional tests.

Blood Tests

A complete blood count (CBC) test is the most common test for anemia. In general, a doctor will order a CBC as part of a routine physical exam. This test measures levels of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets in the blood. The CBC will provide doctors with information about the size and shape of blood cells. The test will also assess whether certain cells are undeveloped.

The second level of testing is called a blood smear. This test helps doctors assess potential causes for anemia by identifying abnormalities in the blood. A doctor will examine a blood sample under a microscope. People who have anemia due to an iron deficiency will have red blood cells that appear shrunken and pale. This test can also help diagnose sickle-cell anemia.

A doctor might follow up with a reticulocyte count, which measures the number of red blood cells. This test can help assess whether the bone marrow is producing enough red blood cells.

Serum iron tests measure iron levels in the blood. The results of this test might be normal even if iron levels are actually low. These results occur because the test measures blood iron levels as opposed to overall iron levels. A doctor will frequently order additional tests to ensure accurate results.

Serum ferritin tests measure the amount of iron-storing proteins in the body. With this test, a doctor can determine whether the body is storing enough iron.

Transferrin is a protein that carries iron throughout the blood. Patients who are iron deficient will have elevated levels of transferrin that lack iron.

Bone Marrow Examination

A bone marrow examination is also known as a bone marrow biopsy. With this type of test, the doctor takes a sample of the bone marrow in order to diagnose conditions such as leukemia, multiple myeloma, and anemia.

The bone marrow is where blood originates, and while the blood can provide substantial diagnostic information, it can sometimes be helpful to examine the source of the blood.

Bone marrow samples can be retrieved in one of two possible ways: by aspiration or by trephine biopsy. Both tests generally occur on the back of the hipbone. An aspiration can also be performed on the breastbone. For both tests, the doctor must insert a needle into the bone. The procedure will last for several minutes. Some patients will need to be sedated with local or general anesthesia.

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