Many conditions can cause anemia


crutchfieldsquareDear Doctor: My sister called me and told me she was diagnosed with anemia. What is anemia?

Anemia is a medical condition where you have less than a desirable amount of red blood cells in circulation. Red blood cells carry a protein, called hemoglobin, that binds and carries oxygen to active tissues to keep all the organs of your body working at their best.

advice.Anemia.11Hemoglobin requires the presence of iron to bind oxygen. When blood has bound oxygen, it is red. When the blood has released oxygen to target tissues and returns to the lungs to get more oxygen, “deoxygenated” blood appears blue (veins).
When a person has anemia, they can feel weak and tired.

There are many conditions that can cause anemia or a low production of red blood cells. These include:

  • Low amounts of iron (this can be a result of blood loss, such as from heavy menstrual bleeding, a bleeding ulcer, an inability to absorb iron, or low iron in the diet)
  • Vitamin deficiency (especially folate, B-12, and vitamin C)
  • Chronic illness (such as cancer, AIDS/HIV, and others
  • Bone marrow’s inability to produce red blood cells (aplastic anemia)
  • Genetic conditions (such as sickle cell anemia, thalassemia, and others)
  • Bone marrow diseases that interfere with red blood cell production (such as leukemia and other such conditions)

When patients have anemia, they may experience one or several of the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Irregular/racing heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Vertigo/dizziness
  • Problems thinking or concentrating
  • Coldness of hands and feet
  • Headaches

Anemia is diagnosed by a simple blood test called a complete blood count (CBC). If this test looks abnormal or suspicious, your doctor may order additional tests to pinpoint the cause of anemia.

The treatment of anemia is dependent on the cause. For low iron, dietary iron supplements or dietary change may be recommended. If due to blood loss, the cause must be identified and remedied. For vitamin deficiency, vitamin supplements or dietary modification is also appropriate.

For other anemias that are associated with disease states, treatments may include transfusions, medications, chemotherapy, and even bone marrow transplants. A physician will recommend the best course of therapy.

You can minimize your risk of dietary anemia by eating a diet rich in iron, vitamin C, folic acid and vitamin B-12. Always be sure to have regular medical examinations. Your doctor will tell you how often to schedule medical examinations based on your personal medical history.


Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the U.S. by Black Enterprise magazine and one of the top 21 African American physicians in the U.S. by the Atlanta Post. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians,