Anemia and skin problems
There are many different types of anemias with different causes. They all have the same effect on the body: an abnormally low amount of red blood cells. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen through the body.
Some types of anemia can cause rashes, which are abnormalities on the skin. Sometimes, the rash that presents with anemia may be due to the anemia condition itself. Other times, the rash may be due to complications from the treatment of the anemia.
Aplastic anemia is one of the most common causes of anemia rashes. Aplastic anemia is a rare condition, but it can be serious. It can develop or be inherited. It’s most often seen in teenagers and older adults. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, it’s two to three times more common in Asian countries than anywhere else in the world.
Aplastic anemia occurs when the body’s bone marrow doesn’t make enough new blood cells. The rashes resemble patches of pinpoint red or purple spots, known as petechiae. These red spots may be raised or flat on the skin. They can appear anywhere on the body but are more common on the neck, arms, and legs.
The petechial red spots do not typically cause any symptoms like pain or itching. You should notice that they stay red, even if you press on the skin.
In aplastic anemia, not only is there a shortage of red blood cells, there is also a lower than normal level of platelets, another type of blood cell. Low platelet count tends to result in bruising or bleeding more easily. This leads to bruises that look like rashes.
Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura
Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura is a rare blood disorder that causes tiny blood clots to form throughout your body. This can cause the tiny red or purple spots known as petechiae, as well as unexplained purplish bruising that can look like a rash. The bruising is known as purpura.
Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria
Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria is a very rare genetic disorder in which a genetic mutation causes your body to produce abnormal red blood cells that break down too quickly. This can cause blood clots and unexplained bruising.
Hemolytic uremic syndrome
Hemolytic uremic syndrome is a condition in which an immune reaction causes the destruction of red blood cells. The immune reaction can be triggered by bacterial infections, some medications, and even pregnancy. It can cause small, unexplained bruising and swelling, particularly of your face, hands, or feet.
Iron deficiency anemia is one of the most common types of anemia. People with iron deficiency of any kind may develop pruritus, which is the medical term for itchy skin. As you itch, you may scratch your skin, which can cause redness and bumps that look like rashes.
In some cases, treatment for iron deficiency anemia may also cause rashes. Ferrous sulfate is a type of iron supplement that your doctor may prescribe to you if you have iron deficiency anemia. Some people may develop an allergy to the ferrous sulfate therapy. This can cause you to develop an itchy rash and hives. The hives or rash can appear anywhere on the body and may also come with some skin swelling under the red areas.
You should seek medical attention immediately if you think you have hives or an allergic rash due to ferrous sulfate, especially if you experience any swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat.
Your doctor may suspect anemia as the cause of your rash if it meets the physical description and is accompanied with other common anemia symptoms. These include:
- pale skin
- shortness of breath
Your doctor may check you for aplastic anemia if you display symptoms like:
- rapid or irregular heartbeat
- unexplained, easy bruising
- prolonged bleeding from cuts, especially minor ones
- dizziness and headaches
- bleeding gums
- frequent infections, especially those that take longer to clear up than normal
If you’re experiencing a rash or skin changes, you should make an appointment to see your doctor or dermatologist, especially if:
- the rash is severe and comes on suddenly with no explanation
- the rash covers your whole body
- the rash lasts more than two weeks and hasn’t improved with home treatment
- you also experience other symptoms like tiredness, fever, weight loss, or changes in bowel movements
If you believe that the rash is a reaction to new iron supplements that you’ve started taking, seek immediate medical attention. You could be having an allergic reaction or may be taking too high of a dose.
The best ways to treat anemia rashes is to treat the underlying conditions causing them. If your doctor suspects or diagnoses iron deficiency as a cause, they will likely have you start taking iron supplements.
Treating aplastic anemia is sometimes more difficult. Treatments used in aplastic anemia include:
Blood transfusions: Blood transfusions can reduce symptoms but not cure aplastic anemia. You may get a transfusion of both red blood cells and platelets. There isn’t a limit to the number of blood transfusions you can receive. However, they may become less effective over time as your body develops antibodies against transfused blood.
Immunosuppressant drugs: These medications suppress the damage that immune cells are doing to your bone marrow. This allows the bone marrow to recover and create more blood cells.
Stem cell transplants: These can help rebuild the bone marrow to the point where it creates enough blood cells.
Anemia can’t be prevented, so the best way to try to prevent anemia rashes is to treat the underlying causes. Make sure you’re getting enough iron through your diet or with supplements to prevent iron deficiency anemia and iron deficiency-related pruritus.
If you develop an unexplained rash, see your doctor right away. If you don’t already have a provider, our Healthline FindCare tool can help you connect to physicians in your area.