Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells.

Red blood cells are essential for carrying oxygen throughout the body, and a deficiency of them can lead to a number of health issues.

The most common cause of anemia is a deficiency of iron, but other nutrients such as folic acid and vitamin B12 can also be involved.

What is Anemia?

Anemia is a medical condition in which your body has a lower-than-normal number of red blood cells.

During a standard blood test, anemia is indicated by a decreased hemoglobin level or a reduced hematocrit value.

Hemoglobin is the iron-rich protein found in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. When you have anemia, your body struggles to provide sufficient oxygen to tissues and organs, which can lead to various symptoms and complications.

Anemia can arise from multiple causes, such as nutritional deficiencies, blood loss or underlying medical conditions, and requires appropriate diagnosis and treatment to effectively manage the condition.

Types of Anemia

There are many types of anemia, with some of the most common ones being:

Each type of anemia has different causes and may require specific treatment approaches.

Iron-Deficiency Anemia

The most common form of anemia, it occurs when your body lacks sufficient iron to produce hemoglobin.

Causes include inadequate iron intake, poor iron absorption, blood loss or increased iron demand during growth or pregnancy.

Vitamin-Deficiency Anemia

This type of anemia results from a deficiency in essential vitamins, primarily vitamin B12 and folate, which are necessary for red blood cell production.

Causes include poor diet, malabsorption disorders or pernicious anemia, a condition that affects vitamin B12 absorption.

Hemolytic Anemia

This occurs when red blood cells are destroyed prematurely, faster than the bone marrow can replace them.

Causes include autoimmune disorders, infections, certain medications or inherited conditions, such as hereditary spherocytosis and glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency.

Aplastic Anemia

A rare and potentially life-threatening condition in which the bone marrow fails to produce enough red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.

Causes include radiation, chemotherapy, certain medications, autoimmune diseases or viral infections, such as hepatitis or Epstein-Barr virus.

Sickle Cell Anemia

A genetic disorder characterised by abnormally shaped red blood cells (sickle-shaped), causing them to break down more rapidly and obstruct blood flow.

This condition primarily affects people of African, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Indian descent.


A group of inherited blood disorders that affect the body’s ability to produce hemoglobin and red blood cells, leading to anemia.

Thalassemia is more common in people of Mediterranean, African, Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian descent.

Anemia of Chronic Disease (ACD)

Anemia of Chronic Disease (ACD) is a frequent cause of anemia, resulting from various underlying conditions, such as:


Symptoms of anemia can be subtle or unnoticed, particularly in mild cases or during the early stages of the condition.

Some people may not even realise they have anemia until it is detected during a routine blood test.

As the condition progresses or becomes more severe, the symptoms tend to become more noticeable and can significantly impact a person’s daily life.

Symptoms can also vary depending on the severity and underlying cause, but some common signs include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Pale or yellowish skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Headaches
  • Increased risk of dementia, including alzheimer’s disease


Anemia can stem from many factors, each contributing to the decrease in the body’s red blood cell count or hemoglobin levels.

Some common causes of anemia include:

  • Iron deficiency: Inadequate iron intake, poor absorption, or increased demand due to growth or pregnancy
  • Vitamin deficiencies: Lack of essential vitamins like vitamin B12 and folate, which are vital for red blood cell production
  • Blood loss: Due to injury, surgery, or gastrointestinal bleeding, leading to reduced red blood cell count
  • Hemolysis: Premature destruction of red blood cells caused by autoimmune disorders, infections, or certain medications
  • Bone marrow failure: Impaired red blood cell production due to genetic disorders, radiation, chemotherapy or autoimmune diseases
  • Chronic diseases: Conditions such as cancer, kidney disease or rheumatoid arthritis that can affect red blood cell production or iron utilisation
  • Inherited blood disorders: Genetic conditions like sickle cell anemia or thalassemia that impact hemoglobin production or red blood cell function


Diagnosing anemia typically involves several steps to assess the underlying cause and severity of the condition. These steps include:

Medical History and Physical Examination

A doctor will ask about symptoms, family history of anemia or blood disorders and any underlying medical conditions or medications that could contribute to anemia.

He/she will also perform a physical examination to check for signs like pale skin, rapid heartbeat or an enlarged spleen.

Blood Tests

  • Complete Blood Count (CBC): This test measures various components of the blood, including red blood cell count, hemoglobin, hematocrit, and mean corpuscular volume (MCV). Low hemoglobin or hematocrit levels may indicate anemia.
  • Reticulocyte count: This test measures the number of young red blood cells (reticulocytes) in circulation, providing information about bone marrow function and red blood cell production.
  • Iron studies: Tests like serum iron, ferritin and total iron-binding capacity (TIBC) help evaluate iron levels and iron metabolism in the body.
  • Vitamin B12 and folate levels: These tests assess levels of essential vitamins involved in red blood cell production.

Bone Marrow Examination

In some cases, a bone marrow biopsy may be performed to assess bone marrow function and determine the cause of anemia, especially when other tests are inconclusive or when certain blood disorders are suspected.

Additional Tests

Depending on the initial test results, further tests may be necessary to identify the specific cause of anemia, such as tests for hemolysis, autoimmune disorders or kidney function.

Treatment options

Treatment options for anemia depend on the underlying cause, type and severity of the condition.

Some common treatment approaches include:

  • Iron supplementation: For iron-deficiency anemia, oral iron supplements or, in severe cases, intravenous iron therapy may be prescribed to increase iron levels and support red blood cell production.
  • Vitamin supplementation: In cases of vitamin-deficiency anemia, vitamin B12 or folate supplements may be administered orally, as injections, or through dietary changes to replenish the body’s stores and improve red blood cell production.
  • Blood transfusions: For severe or acute anemia, blood transfusions may be necessary to provide an immediate increase in red blood cell count and improve oxygen-carrying capacity.
  • Erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs): In certain cases, such as anemia of chronic kidney disease or cancer-related anemia, ESAs may be used to stimulate red blood cell production by mimicking the effects of erythropoietin, a hormone produced by the kidneys.
  • Medications: Depending on the cause, medications may be prescribed to manage underlying conditions or treat specific types of anemia. For example, corticosteroids or immunosuppressive drugs may be used to treat hemolytic anemia caused by autoimmune disorders.
  • Bone marrow or stem cell transplant: In cases of severe aplastic anemia, thalassemia or sickle cell anemia, a bone marrow or stem cell transplant may be considered to replace the defective or non-functioning bone marrow and restore red blood cell production.
  • Lifestyle and dietary changes: Ensuring a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients, like iron, vitamin B12 and folate, can help prevent and manage certain types of anemia. Also, addressing risk factors, such as avoiding excessive alcohol consumption or managing chronic medical conditions, can help reduce the risk of anemia.

Can Anemia Be Prevented?

Preventing anemia often involves adopting healthy lifestyle habits and making appropriate dietary changes to ensure that your body has the necessary nutrients to produce red blood cells and hemoglobin.

Here are some key preventive measures and lifestyle changes to consider:

Maintain a Balanced Diet

Consuming a well-balanced diet rich in iron, vitamin B12, folate, and other essential nutrients helps support red blood cell production. Include iron-rich foods like red meat, poultry, fish, beans, lentils, tofu, fortified cereals, and leafy green vegetables.

For vitamin B12, consume dairy products, eggs, fish, and fortified cereals, and for folate, eat citrus fruits, legumes and dark green vegetables.

Enhance Iron Absorption

Certain nutrients, such as vitamin C, can improve your body’s ability to absorb iron. Include vitamin C-rich foods like oranges, strawberries, tomatoes and bell peppers in your meals, especially when consuming plant-based iron sources.

Avoid drinking tea, coffee or calcium supplements with iron-rich meals, as they can interfere with iron absorption.

Regular Check-Ups

Schedule routine health check-ups and blood tests to monitor your hemoglobin and red blood cell levels. This can help detect and address any nutritional deficiencies or early signs of anemia before they become severe.

Monitor Risk Factors

If you have a higher risk of developing anemia due to pregnancy, menstruation, chronic illness or a family history of blood disorders, work closely with your doctor to monitor and manage these factors and ensure that your nutritional needs are met.

Be cautious with Supplements

If you require iron, vitamin B12 or folate supplements, take them as recommended by your doctor. Excessive consumption of certain supplements can lead to health complications.

Avoid Excessive Alcohol Consumption

Drinking alcohol in moderation or abstaining entirely can help prevent anemia, as excessive alcohol consumption can impair red blood cell production and cause nutritional deficiencies.

Manage Underlying Medical Conditions

If you have a chronic condition that puts you at risk for developing anemia, such as kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease or an autoimmune disorder, work with your doctor to manage the condition effectively and minimise its impact on your red blood cell production and overall health.

What Foods Can Help Treat Anemia?

Several foods can help cure anemia by providing essential nutrients, such as iron, vitamin B12 and folate, which support red blood cell production.

Including these following foods in your diet can help prevent or alleviate anemia:

Iron-Rich Foods

  • Red meat (beef, lamb, pork)
  • Poultry (chicken, turkey)
  • Fish (tuna, salmon, sardines)
  • Shellfish (clams, oysters, mussels)
  • Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas)
  • Tofu and tempeh
  • Leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale, collard greens)
  • Dried fruits (raisins, apricots, prunes)
  • Fortified cereals and grains

Vitamin B12-Rich Foods

  • Dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt)
  • Eggs
  • Fish (salmon, trout, sardines)
  • Shellfish (clams, crab, lobster)
  • Poultry (chicken, turkey)
  • Red meat (beef, lamb, pork)
  • Fortified cereals and plant-based milk alternatives

Folate-Rich Foods

  • Leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale, collard greens)
  • Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits, lemons)
  • Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas)
  • Avocado
  • Asparagus
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Fortified cereals and grains

Incorporating these nutrient-dense foods into your daily diet can help manage anemia by providing the essential nutrients required for your healthy red blood cell production.

Also, to enhance iron absorption, consider consuming vitamin C-rich foods like oranges, strawberries, tomatoes and bell peppers alongside iron-rich plant-based foods.

Remember that a balanced diet and consultation with your doctor are crucial for effectively managing your condition.


Anemia, a condition marked by a decrease in red blood cells or hemoglobin, can be effectively managed through dietary and lifestyle changes.

Incorporating iron, vitamin B12 and folate-rich foods, such as red meat, poultry, fish, leafy green vegetables and fortified cereals, can significantly support your red blood cell production.

Consuming vitamin C-rich foods alongside plant-based iron sources can enhance absorption, further promoting healthy red blood cell levels.

Regular check-ups, managing your underlying medical conditions and working closely with your doctor are essential for curing or managing your condition.


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Sources: Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, WebMD, ASH, Medical News Today, Healthline, Medline Plus, NCBI.