Anemia effects

Dear Alice,

I am anemic and I was wondering what the adverse effects of this condition are. I don't seem to be noticing any.

Dear Reader,

Way to be proactive and get yourself in the know about how anemia can impact your health. Anemia is a condition that occurs when you don't have enough red blood cells or when they are not functioning properly. According to the American Society of Hematology anemia is the most common blood disorder and, like you, sometimes people with anemia don’t notice any adverse effects. If your anemia is mild enough, it may not cause any symptoms or the symptoms may appear so minor they are hard to notice. However, if your anemia gets worse, you may begin to experience more noticeable symptoms, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Pale skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • A fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Pounding noise in your ears
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble thinking or concentrating
  • Brittle nails
  • Headache
  • Pica

It can sometimes be difficult to tell if the symptoms you’re experiencing are associated with anemia or something else. For example, lack of sleep can often result in fatigue and cognitive difficulties, both of which are known effects of anemia. Anemia may also be linked to a higher risk of serious complications (such as low oxygen levels in vital organs), especially if it becomes severe. So, it’s wise to monitor any symptoms and be mindful if they change (or suddenly appear).

Having anemia usually points to some underlying health issue. Dear Reader, you don’t mention what type of anemia you have. There are many different kinds, each caused by something different. Possible causes include:

  • Diets low in certain nutrients such as iron, folate, vitamin B12, which help to build healthy red blood cells.
  • Intestinal or stomach issues may limit your ability to adequately absorb key nutrients (e.g., celiac disease or removal of part of the intestine).
  • During pregnancy, the amount of blood in the body increases which requires more iron to grow red blood cells.
  • Some chronic conditions lead to a loss of red blood cells, including ulcers, cancer, kidney failure, or liver failure.
  • Bone marrow diseases such as lymphoma, multiple myelonoma, or aplastic anemia
  • Family history of inheritable anemia, including thalassemia and sickle cell anemia

Treatment really depends on the cause of the anemia. Some types (specifically iron and vitamin deficiency anemia) can be treated or prevented by maintaining a healthy and varied diet. The recommended diet includes foods that are rich in:

  • Iron: found in meats, beans, lentils and dark leafy greens.
  • Folate: found in citrus fruits and juices, dark leafy greens, bananas, and fortified breads, pastas, and cereals.
  • Vitamin B12: found in meat and dairy products and often in fortified soy products
  • Vitamin C: found in melons, berries, and citrus fruits.

The effects of your anemia may not be apparent right now, but monitoring yourself and any possible symptoms can be helpful. If you are still concerned about the effects of anemia or notice an increase of symptoms, it may be helpful to speak to your health care provider to determine the best course of action for the type of anemia for which you’ve been diagnosed. For more information, check out Anemia from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Last updated Apr 29, 2016
Originally published Oct 01, 1999