People with COVID-19 can develop anemia due to increased levels of inflammation in the body. Research has found that COVID-19 with anemia is associated with more severe symptoms in people hospitalized for COVID-19.

COVID-19 can lead to a variety of blood-related issues, including blood clots and changes in white blood cell or platelet counts.

Anemia can also happen with COVID-19. This is a condition where you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells (RBCs). However, most cases of COVID-19 with anemia have been reported in people who were hospitalized due to COVID-19.

The article examines the relationship between anemia and COVID-19 and what you can do if you develop anemia along with COVID-19.

Anemia can happen in people who have COVID-19. So far, though, it has mainly been reported in people who’ve been hospitalized with COVID-19.

A 2021 study of people hospitalized with COVID-like symptoms found that those who tested positive for COVID-19 were more likely to have anemia than those who tested negative. Anemia was mostly mild and associated with inflammation.

This type of anemia is called anemia of inflammation. Anemia of inflammation can also happen with a variety of other conditions associated with inflammation in the body, including autoimmune diseases and cancer.

It’s also possible for anemia of inflammation in COVID-19 to be associated with deficiencies in iron and in vitamins like vitamin B12 or folate.

Other types of anemia have also been reported in people with COVID-19, but these are much less common. Two examples are hemolytic anemia and aplastic anemia.

Hemolytic anemia is when RBCs are destroyed faster than they can be replaced. With COVID-19, it’s believed to occur due to an autoimmune effect or direct injury to RBCs, according to 2022 research.

Aplastic anemia is when the bone marrow doesn’t make enough blood cells, including RBCs. In rare cases, new aplastic anemia has been reported in people who’ve had COVID-19, according to a small 2022 study.

What is anemia?

Anemia is a condition where you have a lower-than-typical count of RBCs. Because the function of RBCs is to deliver oxygen, having anemia means that the organs and tissues of your body aren’t getting enough oxygen.

Some of the general symptoms of anemia are:

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Iron is a vital part of the hemoglobin that’s present on RBCs. Hemoglobin is the protein that allows RBCs to carry oxygen.

When inflammation is present, the body’s absorption and movement of iron is disrupted. This means that less dietary iron is absorbed from your digestive tract and that the iron already in your body doesn’t move out of storage.

As a result, there’s less iron available for hemoglobin on new RBCs. Plus, inflammation in the body can reduce the production of new RBCs in the bone marrow.

The overall effect is that there are fewer RBCs in your blood, which means that the organs and tissues of your body aren’t getting enough oxygen. If anemia is severe or left untreated, it can lead to serious or life threatening complications.

Anemia, coupled with the other effects of COVID-19, can lead to potentially serious complications. For this reason, people with COVID-19 who have anemia typically have poorer outcomes.

One 2021 study found that anemia was a risk factor for severe COVID-19. Another 2021 study of 137 people with COVID-19 found that participants with anemia were 8.2 times more likely than participants without anemia to have severe pneumonia.

Anemia with COVID-19 may also increase the risk of death. A 2021 review of 5 studies included a total of 9,623 people hospitalized with COVID-19. It found that having anemia was associated with about a 70% higher risk of short-term death.

It’s important to note that most of the research into outcomes for COVID-19 and anemia has been done in hospitalized individuals. It’s unclear if and how anemia affects people with milder COVID-19 symptoms who don’t require hospitalization.

If you have anemia with COVID-19, it could affect your recovery. However, it’s important to remember that every person is different and that your recovery can depend on many factors, including age, overall health, and vaccination status.

A 2020 study included people who had mild to critical COVID-19. It found that changes in iron dynamics could last for at least two months after COVID-19 and were associated with continued lung problems and lower physical performance.

Another 2021 study looked at people who were readmitted to the hospital after clearing COVID-19. It found that people who were readmitted were more likely to have had moderate to severe anemia while they had COVID-19.

Anemia of inflammation is typically addressed by treating the condition that’s causing the anemia. In the case of COVID-19, this can mean:

  • getting lots of rest
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • using over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) to help with symptoms like fever, aches, and pains

If you’re at a higher risk of serious illness due to COVID-19, a healthcare professional may also prescribe an antiviral medication like:

  • nirmatrelvir with ritonavir (Paxlovid)
  • molnupiravir (Lagevrio)
  • remdesivir (Veklury)

There are also additional treatments for anemia, depending on its severity. They can include:

Anemia can happen with COVID-19, typically due to increased levels of inflammation in the body. So far, most reports of COVID-19 with anemia have been in hospitalized individuals.

Research has found that anemia is associated with a poorer outlook in people who have COVID-19. It may also lead to problems during recovery as well.

COVID-19 with anemia is typically treated by managing COVID-19 and its symptoms. Iron supplements and drugs that stimulate RBC production may also sometimes be recommended.