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Anemia is a blood cell condition in which there is a deficiency of oxygen-rich red blood cells. A low level of hemoglobin, the iron-rich protein that carries the oxygen in red blood cells, signals the condition. Anemia can be chronic, or it can be a temporary condition caused by other health issues, including treatments for cancer, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS. Anemia frequently remains undiagnosed because it is an underlying condition of other health issues, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, inflammatory bowel disease, chronic kidney disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.

At risk groups include:  

  • Infants with inadequate amounts of iron
  • Children undergoing periods of rapid growth
  • Pregnant women
  • Pre-menopausal women


  • One in 10 people age 65 and older has anemia.
  • Half of people in nursing homes have anemia.
  • Eight in 10 chemotherapy patients have severe anemia.
  • Half of patients in intensive care units have anemia, and three in four extended-stay seriously ill patients are anemic.
  • One in five pregnant women in the United States is anemic.
  • More than three-quarters of people with AIDS have anemia.
  • More than 40 percent of cardiac patients in the hospital have anemia.

Risk Factors  

  • Low amounts of iron and certain vitamins caused by an iron-deficient diet
  • Loss of blood
  • Serious illnesses, including cancer, diabetes, heart failure, HIV/AIDS, inflammatory bowel disease, kidney disease, liver disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and thyroid disease
  • Long-term infections
  • Family history, including sickle cell anemia and thalassemias


  • Fatigue is the main symptom of most types of anemia
  • Weakness, dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain, shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Paleness of the skin
  • Depression, loss of sexual drive, decreased work performance
  • Brittle fingernails
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Unclear thinking, inability to concentrate
  • Odd food cravings


Anemia treatment can reduce blood loss, increase the survival or production of red blood cells, and increase the amount of oxygen in the blood. The exact treatment depends on the severity and type of the disorder, but can include:

  • Dietary and nutritional changes or supplements, including intake of B12, folic acid, and vitamin C. Iron can be replenished through foods like eggs, fish, meat, poultry, beans, green-leaf vegetables, and fruits.
  • Medication, such as antibiotics or hormones
  • Procedures such as blood transfusions, blood and marrow stem cell transplants, or surgery

Sources: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, and National Anemia Action Council