Health conditions

Anaemia

What is anaemia?

Anaemia describes a condition where there is a low (quality or quantity) red blood cell count or low haemoglobin level.

Red blood cells are needed to carry oxygen in your body.

Groups at risk of anaemia include:

  • vegetarians
  • teenage girls and women with heavy menstrual cycles
  • children, especially during rapid growth
  • premature babies.

Causes of anaemia

There are many causes of anaemia, including:

  • blood loss, for example through stomach or colon bleeding or heavy periods
  • problems with your red blood cells through:
    • poor dietary intake or illness
    • side effects of medication

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of anaemia are quite varied. A young person in good health may not even know they have the condition.

Some of the more common symptoms include:

  • tiredness
  • pale skin
  • short of breath
  • dizziness
  • cold hands and feet
  • headaches
  • heart palpitations/chest pain

Various types of anaemia

The most common types of anaemia include:

  • iron deficiency (low iron levels)
  • low vitamin B12 levels
  • chronic lead poisoning
  • low folic acid levels
  • haemolytic – your body destroys your red blood cells at an earlier time than it should.

How do I know I have anaemia?

To diagnose anaemia, your doctor may:

  • conduct a physical examination, checking your lungs and heart
  • refer you for tests including:
    • full blood count
    • perform tests to determine the size and shape of your red blood cells.

Treatment of anaemia

Your treatment will depend on the underlying cause of your anaemia.

If it is due to an iron deficiency, your doctor may recommend a supplement and changes to your diet.

A healthy iron-rich diet includes:

  • lean red meat
  • poultry
  • iron enriched cereals
  • fish
  • green vegetables
  • wholegrain breads and cereals
  • nuts.

Treatment for anaemia might also include:

  • antibiotics – to treat infections
  • iron injections or infusions
  • blood transfusion
  • hormones – for women and teenage girls who experience heavy menstrual cycles.

Anaemia may also result from an enlarged or diseased spleen. In severe cases, the spleen may be surgically removed.

How can anaemia be prevented?

You may be able to prevent some forms of anaemia, particularly if it is related to dietary or vitamin deficiency.

Your healthcare professional will be able to discuss ways you can ensure your diet is rich in iron.

Where to get help

  • See your doctor
  • Visit a GP after hours
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222

Remember

  • Red blood cells are needed to carry oxygen around your body.
  • Your treatment will depend on the underlying cause of your anaemia, therefore never attempt to treat yourself without speaking to your practitioner first. 
  • A young person in good health may not be aware they are anaemic.

Acknowledgements
WA Patient Blood Management Program

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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