There are many types of anemia, each with different causes. Some types of anemia may not need medication. Others respond well to medication, including supplements like iron, vitamin B12, or folate.
Anemia is a condition that happens when the level of healthy red blood cells in your body is too low. As a result, your body has a hard time getting the oxygen it needs from your blood.
Many different types of anemia exist, each with its own cause. Some types are temporary and can be easily resolved, while others are chronic and require long-term management.
No matter the cause, most types of anemia cause similar symptoms, including fatigue, weakness, dizziness, and shortness of breath.
This article takes a closer look at the different types of medication used to treat anemia.
Some types of anemia may not need medication. Other types respond well to medication, including specific supplements.
The treatment plan for anemia will depend on the type of anemia you have and what’s causing it. Sometimes medication may be just one part of an overall treatment plan.
Listed below are some of the most common types of medications used to treat anemia.
Iron supplements, also called ferrous sulfate, can help build and replenish the iron levels in your body. Talk with your doctor about what dosage is right for you.
To improve your body’s ability to absorb iron from supplements, your doctor may also suggest you take vitamin C supplements at the same time. This can help increase how much iron your body takes in.
Erythropoietin (EPO) is a hormone produced by the kidneys. It helps stimulate the production of red blood cells.
However, some health conditions, such as chronic kidney disease, can affect how much EPO your kidneys make. If EPO levels are too low, it may result in low levels of red blood cells, which causes anemia.
Treatment for anemia caused by low EPO levels usually involves injectable erythropoietin-stimulating agents (ESAs). This is a synthetic (human-made) version of the EPO your body makes. This medication can help stimulate the production of healthy levels of red blood cells. You may also be able to self-administer injectable ESAs at home.
Vitamin supplements or injections
Megaloblastic anemia is most commonly caused by deficiencies of vitamin B12 and folate. When the levels of these vitamins are too low, your bone marrow may make red blood cells that are larger in size than typical red blood cells.
Treatment of megaloblastic anemia may include taking vitamin B12 and folate supplements, which can help stimulate the production of healthy red blood cells.
Some people have an autoimmune condition known as pernicious anemia that prevents the absorption of vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 injections are usually necessary for this type of anemia.
The shots are typically given daily or weekly until B12 levels are within a healthy range. You may be able to administer these injections yourself.
Medication to treat an underlying condition
Often, treating the underlying condition that’s affecting the production of red blood cells can help resolve anemia symptoms. This may include medication to treat inflammatory conditions, viral infections, or some types of cancer.
Depending on the type of anemia you have, treatment may include:
- Dietary changes: Dietary changes may help address some types of nutritional deficiencies. This may include adding more iron-rich foods to your diet, or foods that are good sources of vitamin B, folate, or vitamin C.
- Blood transfusion: A blood transfusion may be necessary after heavy blood loss due to an injury, surgery, or childbirth. Blood transfusions may also be necessary if you have sickle cell anemia, or a severe form of sideroblastic anemia, thalassemia, or aplastic anemia.
- Bone marrow transplant: A bone marrow transplant involves transplanting cells that are found in the bone marrow (stem cells) to promote the growth of healthy new blood cells. This may be an option for more severe forms of aplastic anemia, anemias associated with bone marrow diseases, thalassemia, and sickle cell anemia.
Some over-the-counter (OTC) supplements can help treat anemia caused by low iron levels or a vitamin deficiency. However, it’s important to talk with your doctor before you begin taking any OTC supplements.
Supplements can have side effects and may interfere with other medications you’re taking. Also, it may be dangerous to take a higher dosage than you need. Be sure you get clear instructions from your doctor on the correct dosage and how often you need to take any supplements.
OTC supplements that may help treat some types of anemia include:
Some types of anemia require medication, while others don’t. Often, medication may be part of an overall treatment plan.
There are many types of treatment plans for anemia. The medication or treatment that’s right for you will depend on the underlying cause.
Common medication options include supplements such as iron, vitamin B12, and folate. These are available by prescription or OTC.
ESA injections may also be an option for some types of anemia. Other medications may be used to treat the underlying condition that’s affecting the production of red blood cells and causing anemia.