If you’ve been diagnosed with anemia, you’ve likely experienced the unpleasant side effects that it can cause. Some of these side effects and symptoms can mirror those of anxiety.
So, is there a connection between anemia and anxiety? The short answer is, maybe.
Anemia is a condition where your body doesn’t have enough red blood cells. The job of red blood cells is to carry oxygen throughout your body, so when you don’t have enough of them, your body isn’t getting the oxygen it needs to function properly.
Eating a diet that lacks vitamins and minerals can also be a contributing factor to some types of anemia.
Many of the symptoms of anemia are similar to those of anxiety and some may actually create anxiety if you’re experiencing them.
Symptoms of anemia may include:
- pale skin
- cold hands and feet
- shortness of breath
- heart palpitations or irregular heartbeats
- chest pain
- dizziness or lightheadedness
Having these symptoms may magnify or increase anxiety. If you’re experiencing uncomfortable digestive symptoms, you may worry about going out in public. If you’re having chest pain or shortness of breath, you may worry that it’s a sign of something more serious.
These symptoms can also indicate other serious health problems. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, see a healthcare provider or go to the nearest emergency room if the symptoms are severe.
If you’re having symptoms of anxiety or anemia, it’s important to be evaluated by a healthcare professional as soon as possible to determine what’s causing your symptoms and begin treating the underlying causes.
Anemia is diagnosed through blood tests, your medical history, and a physical exam.
Blood tests can show whether you’re making enough red blood cells and whether there’s enough iron in your body, while the medical history and physical exam will explore any symptoms you’re having.
Lab tests to diagnose anemia can include:
- Complete blood count (CBC). This test measures the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
- Vitamin B12 level test. This can identify low levels of B12.
- Serum ferritin levels. This test measures iron stores in your body.
- Serum iron levels. This measures the amount of available iron in your body.
- Folate test. Low levels of folate can cause macrocytic anemia.
There are many types of anemia. The type of anemia you have will depend on what’s causing it and what other medical conditions you may have.
The most common types of anemia include:
- iron-deficiency anemia
- hemolytic anemia
- sickle cell anemia
- aplastic anemia
- normocytic anemia
- pernicious anemia
- macrocytic anemia
Is it anxiety?
It can be hard to distinguish between symptoms of anxiety and symptoms of anemia since many of them are the same. Symptoms of anxiety include:
- racing thoughts
- fast heartbeat
- fast breathing (hyperventilating)
- difficulty concentrating
- difficulty sleeping
The good news is, anemia is a very treatable condition. The treatment for anemia depends on the underlying cause and may include:
- modifying your diet to include iron-rich or folate-rich foods
- injections to stimulate the production of red blood cell-producing hormones in your kidneys
- in serious cases, blood transfusions
After a mental health professional or doctor has diagnosed you with anxiety, there are different treatment options available to help with symptoms. These options include:
- Psychotherapy. This is therapy that’s done with a psychotherapist. Talking to a therapist can help identify root causes of anxiety and any triggers that you may have. According to the American Psychiatry Association (APA), nearly 75 percent of people who try talk therapy find it beneficial.
- Medication. There are several different types of medication that you can take that may help reduce your symptoms of anxiety.
Finding help for anxiety
If you’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety that interfere with your daily life, help is available here:
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America.They can help you find a qualified therapist in your area.
- American Psychological Association. Their website can help you find a crisis line phone number for immediate assistance and a licensed psychologist in your state for therapy.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Call 800-950-NAMI or text “NAMI” to 741741.
- Black Mental Health Alliance. They can help you find a Black therapist or a Black psychiatrist in your area.
- United Way Helpline. They can help you find a therapist, healthcare, or other basic necessities: Call 211 or 800-233-4357.
If you’re having thoughts of harming yourself, talk with your doctor, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room right away.
In addition to these treatment options, there are many things you can do to help reduce and manage your anxiety. These include:
- avoiding alcohol and caffeine
- getting enough sleep
- exercising regularly
- avoiding or quitting smoking
Risk factors for anemia include:
- family history of anemia
- kidney problems
- heavy periods or abnormal vaginal bleeding
- diet low in vitamins and minerals
Both anemia and anxiety are serious conditions if left untreated. However, once they’re diagnosed by a medical professional, treatments like diet adjustment, medications, and therapy can be extremely helpful.