Anemia is a condition in which your body lacks enough healthy red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. It is the most common blood disorder, affecting more than three million Americans. There are different types of anemia, each with its own cause. Iron deficiency anemia is the most common.
While anemia affects both adults and children, the information I’m sharing here focuses on iron deficiency anemia in adults. Below are answers to common questions patients have about iron deficiency anemia.
How Do You Know if You Are Anemic?
Symptoms of anemia can be subtle, including feeling tired and weak. People tend to overlook these signs, and many do not see a doctor when they start to experience them. Often, people don’t realize they have anemia until it is identified in a blood test.
Anemia is typically diagnosed through a CBC (or complete blood count), which is a blood test that includes a count of your red blood cells. During your annual preventive check-up, your primary care doctor will have you get a CBC because it offers a picture of your overall health. It’s yet another great reason to make sure you schedule a check-up with your doctor each year.
What Causes Iron Deficiency Anemia?
Like most conditions, anemia can range from mild to severe. That’s why it is so important to follow-up with your doctor to determine the cause. If you have been diagnosed with anemia, make sure you understand which type it is.
Not having enough iron in your body causes iron deficiency anemia. Common reasons for this include:
- Not enough iron in your diet. If your diet is lacking in certain vitamins and minerals, you can become anemic. Vegans and vegetarians must be careful to get enough iron from plant-based sources to make up for the iron they aren’t getting from meat.
- Pregnancy. If you are pregnant and are not taking a daily multivitamin with folic acid and iron, you will be at higher risk of anemia.
- Menstruation. People who menstruate are at higher risk of becoming anemic, particularly if they have heavier periods.
- Chronic diseases. People who have chronic diseases, such as chronic kidney disease and congestive heart failure, are more likely to have anemia. Chronic disease creates more inflammation in the body, which makes it harder for your body to use iron and make enough red blood cells. People with diabetes are more likely to have inflamed blood vessels, which also increases their risk of anemia.
How is Iron Deficiency Anemia Treated?
Most of the time, anemia is easily treated with changes to your diet or by taking an iron supplement. Keep in mind that your doctor may prescribe iron, which is different than the supplement you can buy over-the-counter.
You will need to find an iron supplement that works well for you, since iron can upset your stomach. Some people may need to take iron intravenously (IV), which means the medicine would be given by a needle into a vein in their arm.
Should I Worry?
In most cases, anemia is treatable and not something to worry about. Follow your doctor’s advice, and be sure to schedule and keep your follow-up visits. If you are treated for anemia and your red blood cell count does not return to a normal range after diet changes or iron supplementation, more investigation is needed to determine the root cause. Anemia can be one of the first symptoms of cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma, and colon cancer. Your doctor may refer you to a hematologist (doctor who specializes in blood disorders) so you can find out what is causing the anemia.
Can I Get Extra Support for Anemia?
Independence Blue Cross members can call the number on the back of their member ID card to talk to a Registered Nurse Health Coach. Our Health Coaches are available 24/7 to answer health-related questions, big and small, including questions about anemia. They can help you understand your diagnosis, review your doctor’s treatment plan with you, and offer tips to make it easier to manage your diagnosis.