What is anemia?

If you have anemia, you have a lower-than-normal number of red blood cells, or the amount of hemoglobin in your red blood cells has dropped below normal. Because of this, your body’s cells aren’t getting enough oxygen.

There are three primary causes of anemia: blood loss, lack of red blood cell production, and high rates of red blood cell destruction.

Chronic anemia is also known as anemia of chronic disease and anemia of inflammation and chronic disease. This anemia is a result of other long-term health conditions that affect your body’s ability to make red blood cells.

These health conditions include:

Sometimes the chemotherapy used to treat certain cancers undermines your body’s ability to make new blood cells, resulting in anemia.

Symptoms might include:

These symptoms may be masked by underlying conditions.

Many doctors will focus on treating the condition that is causing the chronic anemia and not always treat it separately.

For example, if you have IBD, your doctor might prescribe anti-inflammatories such as corticosteroids and antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin (Cipro). These can treat the IBD and make the chronic anemia disappear.

There are other conditions in which your doctor might suggest treatments specifically targeted at the chronic anemia.

For example, if you have kidney disease with chronic anemia, your doctor might prescribe vitamin B-12 and folic acid supplements if you have a vitamin B-12 or folate deficiency. Or your doctor might prescribe a synthetic form of erythropoietin.

Also, if you have chronic anemia and blood work indicates an iron deficiency, your doctor might recommend iron supplements.

People with chronic anemia are often advised to incorporate dietary changes to address specific deficiencies. Following are a few suggestions if your iron, folic acid, or vitamin B-12 levels are low.

Dietary sources of iron:

  • beans
  • chicken
  • spinach
  • breakfast cereals

Dietary sources of folic acid:

  • beans
  • chicken
  • breakfast cereals
  • rice

Dietary sources of vitamin B-12:

  • chicken
  • breakfast cereals
  • fish
  • beef liver

Iron deficiency anemia

Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia. It’s caused by a lack of iron from blood loss, a diet deficient in iron, or poor absorption of iron.

Vitamin deficiency anemia

Vitamin deficiency anemia is caused by a lack of vitamin B-12 or folic acid either from a diet deficient in these nutrients or poor absorption of them.

When vitamin B-12 can’t be absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract, it results in pernicious anemia.

Aplastic anemia

Aplastic anemia is a rare condition that occurs when your bone marrow stops making enough blood cells.

Hemolytic anemia

Hemolytic anemia occurs when red blood cells are broken up in the bloodstream or in the spleen. It may be due to mechanical problems (leaky heart valves or aneurysms), infections, autoimmune disorders, or congenital abnormalities in red blood cells.

Sickle cell anemia

Sickle cell anemia is an inherited hemolytic anemia with abnormal hemoglobin protein that causes red blood cells to be rigid and clog circulation through small blood vessels.

Chronic anemia is a type of anemia that commonly occurs with infections, chronic illnesses, inflammatory disorders, or cancer. It often isn’t treated separately from the underlying condition causing it.

If you have a condition that may be associated with chronic anemia and think that you might be anemic, talk to your doctor about a complete blood count (CBC) blood test. If the result indicates chronic anemia, review treatment options with your doctor.