Chest pain is a common symptom of anemia, and could be a sign that your treatment plan needs adjusting.
Anemia is one of the most commonly diagnosed blood disorders. While multiple versions of anemia exist, the concern is almost always the same. The condition refers to having a low red blood cell count, which means that the body might not be getting enough oxygen to sufficiently support critical functions.
Although fatigue or shortness of breath might be more common, another possible side effect of anemia is chest pain.
Understanding what triggers chest pains in anemic people, as well as how to manage symptoms or what treatments are best, is critical for regaining quality of life and controlling this disorder.
As with other conditions that are often associated with chest pain as a symptom, anemic-related chest pain can feel like you have something pressing or squeezing on your chest.
It’s also often associated with a racing heartbeat that can induce anxiety or a panic attack.
When chest pains occur, try to stay calm. Allowing your anxiety to grow can make the experience worse or even trigger additional symptoms or more severe chest pains.
When should you go to the ER with anemic chest pain?
By default, chest pain isn’t normal. So, if you experience this symptom, it’s best not to ignore it. You should seek emergency care if your chest pain:
- changes in intensity from mild to severe or extremely painful
- occurs frequently
- lasts for prolonged periods of 15 minutes or more
- is accompanied by other serious symptoms like difficulty breathing
Keep in mind that treatment options for anemia-related symptoms will usually fall into two broad categories — solutions that only treat the symptoms and solutions that work to control and reverse anemia.
While short-term treatments are great for calming the frequency or severity of anemia symptoms, your long-term goal should be to get anemia to a controlled level. This means that you’re focused on safely increasing your red blood cell count.
Treating chest pain
The severity and frequency of your chest pain, as well as any accompanying symptoms that are present, will determine the treatment plan that a physician recommends.
For example, a person who frequently experiences chest pain after prolonged periods of shortness of breath might be required to begin oxygen supplementation.
Ultimately, any treatment plan that only addresses the symptoms won’t be as effective in the long term as treatments designed to correct a low red blood cell count.
- Vitamin supplements: For iron and vitamin deficiency anemia, correcting dietary choices and possibly supplementing vitamins can usually be effective at correcting the imbalance. As a result, associated symptoms should subside with time.
- Medications: Other forms of anemia may require different prescription medications that aid the body’s bone marrow in producing more red blood cells.
- Blood transfusions: Some people may benefit from a blood transfusion which can quickly help an individual increase their total number of red blood cells. Blood transfusions may be the first step for people living with more severe cases of anemia.
- Bone marrow transplant: Additionally, some people may require a bone marrow transplant if their anemia is linked to faulty stem cells that would normally work to create new blood cells.
In many instances, several of the hallmark anemic symptoms can be linked to the same cause. Chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, pale skin, and either racing or abnormal heart rates are all related to poor oxygenation throughout the body.
Because you don’t have enough red blood cells to efficiently distribute oxygen throughout the body, all of these symptoms are possible and highlight the strain your body is facing.
Chest pain is a byproduct of your heart not getting enough oxygen. Your red blood cells contain a molecule known as hemoglobin. This specific protein binds with oxygen in the lungs and carries it to various parts of the body.
If there’s an issue with the function or amount of red blood cells in your body, you may develop anemia.
Also, note that more specialized forms of anemia, like sickle cell disease, can also cause complications like acute chest syndrome (ACS). ACS has many symptoms, but chest pain is one of the most common.
As with other forms of anemia, ACS-related abnormalities with the red blood cells are often to blame for the chest pain. Common causes can include having an infection in the lungs, or a clump of abnormally-shaped blood cells creating a blockage in the blood vessels going to the heart or lungs.
Chest pain is never a symptom that people should ignore — regardless of their underlying health. But in people with anemia, chest pain can be a sign that their condition is worsening and that their red blood cell levels are too low.
In most cases, focusing on treating and controlling anemia is the best preventive measure a person can take to stop chest pains and other debilitating anemia symptoms.
If your chest pain worsens, occurs with increasing frequency, or is accompanied by breathing difficulties, don’t wait — go to the hospital.