Anemia is a condition in which a person’s blood has a lower than normal number of red blood cells (RBCs), or the red blood cells don’t have enough hemoglobin. Hemoglobin—an iron-rich protein that gives the red color to blood—carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. In people with anemia, the blood does not carry enough oxygen to the rest of the body.
As a result, people with anemia feel tired, along with other symptoms, because their bodies are not receiving enough oxygen. In severe or prolonged cases of anemia, the lack of oxygen in the blood can cause serious and sometimes fatal damage to the heart and other organs of the body.
The most common symptom of anemia is fatigue (feeling tired or weak). It may be more difficult to find the energy to do normal activities if you have anemia. Other signs and symptoms of anemia include:
- Shortness of breath
- Coldness in the hands and feet
- Pale skin
- Chest pain
All of these signs and symptoms can occur because your heart has to work harder to pump more oxygen-rich blood through the body.
The goal of treating anemia is to increase the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. This is done by increasing the red blood cell count and/or hemoglobin level as close as possible to normal levels. An additional goal is to treat the underlying condition or cause of the anemia.
The treatment your doctor prescribes will depend on the type, cause, and severity of the anemia you have. Treatment may include dietary supplements, changes in diet, medicines, and/or medical procedures such as blood transfusions or surgery.