The Signs and Symptoms of Anemia

Updated on March 27, 2018
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I love to research health topics to educate others about various illnesses and conditions.

Anemia is one of the most common blood conditions and can develop at some point in life or be hereditary. It causes enough concern itself, but it can also lead to a variety of other health problems, so it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms. Someone can become anemic when their body has a low hemoglobin level or red blood cell count. Red blood cells (RBCs) transport oxygen with the help of hemoglobin from the lungs to the rest of the body. Having too few RBCs can prohibit the rest of the body getting enough oxygen.

There are many types of anemia, however, some of the symptoms are shared. In this article, I will give an overview of the noticeable signs and symptoms of anemia as well as the ones that aren't so easy to recognize.

Diagram summarizing anemia symptoms.
Diagram summarizing anemia symptoms. | Source

Common Symptoms of Anemia

The severity of the symptoms depends on the severity of your condition. They may range from fatigue and dizziness to more serious conditions like shortness of breath and irregular heartbeats. Please see your doctor if you notice any of these changes. Anemia is a serious condition, and if left untreated, can become life-threatening.

Fatigue and Decreased Energy

The decrease in the number of red blood cells means a decrease in the amount of oxygen supplied to the heart, muscles, and lungs. Because oxygen is required for your cells to make energy, you may feel mentally and physically drained.

Weakness

Along the same lines, since your body is not producing enough energy, it will try to conserve what it can produce. This can lead you to experience muscle weakness.

Neurological Symptoms

When the brain does not receive enough oxygen, you will experience poor concentration, confusion, high irritability, and light-headedness or dizziness. You may also have difficulty falling asleep or waking up—despite always feeling tired.

Orthostatic Hypotension

You may recognize orthostatic hypotension as a dizzy spell after standing up. This results from a large drop in blood pressure and can indicate anemia. Your body automatically raises your blood pressure upon standing in order to supply blood to your brain (against the force of gravity). If you have anemia, your blood volume is lowered, so there is not much to pump, resulting in lightheadedness and dizziness.

Fatigue and disruption in the sleep cycle can indicate anemia.
Fatigue and disruption in the sleep cycle can indicate anemia. | Source

Shortness of Breath

This is most evident when you engage in physical activities, although you may notice it while doing simple things like walking outside or going up the stairs. This is called dyspnea when it happens regularly. Anyone that experiences shortness of breath, especially without undertaking any physical activity, should consult a physician.

Irregular Heartbeats

Anemia can cause heart palpitations, angina, and arrhythmia. Tissue hypoxia from low oxygen levels forces the heart to work harder to deliver enough oxygen to the cells. Patients that suffer from an existing heart condition are more likely to experience cardiac symptoms.

Skin Bruises More Easily

Loss of platelets coincides with the decrease in RBCs. Platelets are an element of the blood that helps you heal and assists in blood clotting. Having fewer platelets makes you more vulnerable to bruising and inability to stop bleeding.

Changes in Skin Tone

Blood is red when it is oxygenated and blue when it isn't. If you are anemic, you may notice that your skin appears pale or slightly blue. The change in appearance is most evident in the whites of the eyes and area underneath the tongue. In certain situations, there may be swelling of the mouth or tongue. Some people may notice cold hands and feet.

Jaundice is another skin condition that can occur in people with anemia. The changes in your blood can damage the liver, causing the skin to appear yellow.

Source

Pica

Pica is an eating disorder where people crave non-food substances like ice, dirt, or clay. Pagophagia is a form of pica in which people compulsively ingest iced drinks or ice. It is the most common form of pica experienced by anemic patients.

Oral Health Symptoms

Anemia can sometimes cause changes in oral health. There is an increased chance of developing gum disease, or periodontitis. The decrease in red blood cells can make the gums look pale, and the tongue may begin to swell, become pale, or feel sore.

Changes in Urine Color

Changes in the color of urine may indicate the presence of anemia. Urine is usually clear or slightly yellow in color, depending on how hydrated you are. Abnormal looking urine may look dark, blood-colored, or cloudy. They type of anemia most likely to result in changes to urine color is hemolytic anemia. This is the result of the destruction of red blood cells that are excreted in the urine.

Irregular Menstruation

If the regularity and frequency of your menstrual cycle changes, you may have iron deficiency anemia. Anemia and menstruation can have a cyclical relationship: while anemia can affect the timing of menstruation, heavy periods can worsen the anemia.

Source

Anemia Symptoms That Are Hard to Recognize

These are the changes caused by anemia that you may not notice immediately or may have difficulty attributing to anemia. This is why it is best to see your doctor if you have any changes in your health or any other concerns. Finding some of these symptoms may require blood tests to be done.

Impaired T-Cell and Macrophage Function

T-cells and macrophages are important parts of the immune system. For example, macrophages are white blood cells that reside in the connective tissue and bloodstream. They operate as your first line of defense and engulf viruses and bacteria. The impaired function of these cells leaves anemic people vulnerable to infections.

Gastrointestinal Signs

There are several gastrointestinal disorders like Crohn’s disease that affect the body’s ability to absorb iron. When the body does not absorb enough iron, it will begin to use its reserve. Once the iron reserves are gone, the body’s production of red blood cells starts to decrease.

Low Body Temperature

Your body regulates its internal temperature, maintaining it at 98.6 degrees °F (or 37 °C), despite the surrounding environmental conditions. A big part of this regulatory process is your blood vessels. Think of them as the oil-cooling or water-cooling system in your car. If you aren't producing enough blood, you aren't able to maintain your body temperature efficiently.

Low Blood Pressure

Decreased production of red blood cells tells the body to lower the blood volume (i.e. expel more water) to maintain a proper blood concentration. This decrease in blood volume means there is less pressure in the system. When your blood pressure is low enough, it contributes to many of the symptoms listed above, including fatigue, dizziness, and irregular heartbeats. However, small drops in pressure when you start developing anemia may go unnoticed.

Final Thoughts

There are many types of anemia with various causes. They can be hereditary, or they can develop later in life. In either case, it's important to know the warning signs so that you can catch it before it develops into something much worse. Anemia is a serious disease that can easily lead other health complications if left untreated. If you notice any of these symptoms in yourself or someone you know, it's best to consult your physician right away.

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    • profile image

      Doris 

      2 months ago

      My dr. says I may have a generic anemia problem. What is the name of that disorder?

    • profile image

      sarsawathishekar@gmail.com 

      5 years ago

      really very good information i have read thank you very much

    • profile image

      rona franco 

      5 years ago

      thank you for the information,now i realize how crucial iron in our body..i have that symptoms too,i'm aware now for this.

    • profile image

      Jade 

      5 years ago

      Very thorough and understandable. Thank you for such a wonderful article.

    • profile image

      solly border 

      5 years ago

      how is anemia related to age or kiddney chronic deiese?

    • Mom Kat profile image

      Mom Kat 

      5 years ago from USA

      This was very well written. I suffer from low-iron anemia and I experience a lot of the symptoms when I don't take my iron pills. It got so out of control that I was very ill for 2 years. My teeth were destroyed because I couldn't absorb any nutrition from my food. My gastrointestinal tract hated me & caused me a great deal of pain and discomfort. By the time I actually got to the doctor because I couldn't live like that anymore my iron level was at a 9.5 ~ this caused the doc a great deal of concern, being that it was supposed to be at a 13 and anything under 11 is dangerous.

      He had me taking 3 iron pills a day and visiting him for tests once a month. For 3 months there weren't any changes. He told me to start taking vitamin C with my iron and that if there were still no changes next month, he was going to give me an iron injection! (I hate needles)

      Well, the C worked. My next test was at a 11, which meant my body was finally absorbing the iron.

      When I don't take my iron & vitamin C, my levels go down, so it looks like it's going to be a life-long thing for me.

      I have always had a difficult time maintaining my weight. I have low blood-pressure, dizziness, irritability, and fatigue. My skin looks "sick" and my eyes get dark circles. I bruise easily and it takes a long time for them to heal.

      It's amazing what 1 little deficiency can do to a body!

    • pringoooals profile image

      Karina 

      5 years ago from Edinburgh

      Oh my, I have almost all the sympthoms. Time to do something about it. Good to get the understanding where it all might come from. Thanks for sharing!

    • Chatkath profile image

      Kathy 

      5 years ago from California

      Very informative! Thank you for sharing! I learned quite a bit, I thought it just made one tired! So much more complicated now isn't it?

    • Scribenet profile image

      Scribenet 

      5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Good information on anemia, I did not realize it caused so many conditions. Thanks for an informative Hub!

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