Signs and Symptoms of Anemia

Anemia Symptoms

Fast Facts

Anemia is a condition with reduced red blood cells, impairing oxygen transport

Common symptoms include fatigue, pale skin, headaches, and shortness of breath

Severe anemia may require intravenous drugs, blood transfusions, or surgery

Children and infants can also suffer from iron-deficiency anemia

Untreated anemia can lead to severe complications like organ failure.

Anemia occurs when the number of red blood cells in your blood is reduced, making it difficult to transport oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. People with cancer, autoimmune diseases, or heavy menstrual periods are at a higher risk of developing anemia.

Typically, anemia is treated with supplements or medications that help your body produce more red blood cells. In more severe cases, intravenous drugs, blood transfusions, or even surgery may be required.

There are several types of anemia, each with different causes, but many symptoms are common across all types. These symptoms include headaches, fatigue, and shortness of breath. The severity of symptoms can vary from mild to severe, depending on how serious the anemia is and how quickly it develops. In the early stages, you may have no symptoms, but they can worsen if left untreated.

Extreme Tiredness and Fatigue

Feeling extremely tired or fatigued is the most common symptom of iron-deficiency anemia, as well as aplastic anemia and hemolytic anemia. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body, which is needed for energy. When red blood cell levels are low, your tissues and muscles don’t get enough oxygen, leading to fatigue. Additionally, your heart has to work harder to circulate the limited oxygen-rich blood, contributing to feelings of extreme tiredness.

Pale Skin

Pale skin is common in all types of anemia due to reduced blood flow. When there are fewer red blood cells, less red blood reaches the skin’s surface, causing it to lose color. Healthcare providers often look for paleness when diagnosing anemia. This paleness can affect the entire body or be localized to areas like the nails, palms, and the lining around the eyes.

Headaches

Headaches, including migraines, are common with various types of anemia, although the exact cause is unclear. Some evidence suggests that iron deficiency, the most common cause of anemia, might be responsible for headaches, particularly in women and girls during menstruation. Anemia is also a risk factor for idiopathic intracranial hypertension, a condition that increases pressure around the brain and causes headaches, mostly affecting adult women with obesity.

Shortness of Breath

Low hemoglobin levels in anemia lead to low oxygen levels, depriving muscles and tissues of oxygen-rich blood. This can make everyday activities like walking, climbing stairs, or even making the bed challenging, resulting in shortness of breath, dizziness, or lightheadedness. Consistent shortness of breath should prompt a visit to a healthcare provider, as it could indicate anemia or another serious medical condition.

Irregular Heartbeat or Palpitations

Anemia can cause low hemoglobin levels, making your heart work harder to transport oxygen, which may lead to irregular heartbeats or palpitations. More research is needed to fully understand this connection.

Nail, Skin, and Hair Changes

Anemia can cause koilonychia, a nail abnormality characterized by thin, brittle, and spoon-shaped nails, often seen in chronic iron deficiency. Dry skin and hair loss can also occur due to low oxygen levels causing dryness and weakness. If you have iron-deficiency anemia, you might notice slowed hair growth or increased hair loss.

Tongue Swelling or Soreness

Anemia can cause symptoms inside your mouth, such as a burning sensation, inflammation, dry mouth, a smooth, pale, and swollen tongue, mouth ulcers, and sore, red cracks at the corners of the mouth.

Nerve Damage

Pernicious anemia, caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency, can lead to nerve damage, resulting in tingling and numbness in the hands and feet, loss of reflexes, muscle weakness, balance issues, and difficulty walking.

Anemia Symptoms in Children

Anemia Symptoms in Children

Children and infants can develop iron-deficiency anemia due to rapid growth and insufficient iron intake. Consuming a diet low in iron or high in dairy milk, which affects iron absorption, can cause anemia. Symptoms in children and infants include:

  • Tiredness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unusual food cravings or decreased appetite
  • Irritability
  • Headaches or dizziness
  • Sore tongue
  • Paleness
  • Pale or blue-tinged whites of the eyes
  • Brittle nails

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you experience any symptoms of anemia, it’s important to see a healthcare provider. Mild to moderate anemia is often asymptomatic, so even mild symptoms like fatigue and headaches can indicate more serious anemia. Untreated anemia can lead to severe complications, including organ failure and worsening of conditions like cardiovascular disease. Pregnant women should also seek medical advice, as anemia can cause premature birth, low birth weight, and increased risk of anemia in the baby.

A healthcare provider can diagnose anemia or other health conditions and determine an appropriate treatment plan for you

A Quick Review

Anemia reduces red blood cells, causing symptoms like fatigue, pale skin, and shortness of breath. Severe cases might need advanced treatments like intravenous drugs or blood transfusions. Children can also be affected. If symptoms persist, consult a healthcare provider to prevent serious complications.

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