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Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells provide oxygen to body tissues.

Different types of anemia include:


You may have no symptoms if the anemia is mild or if the problem develops slowly. Symptoms that may occur first include:

  • Feeling grumpy
  • Feeling weak or tired more often than usual, or with exercise
  • Headaches
  • Problems concentrating or thinking

If the anemia gets worse, symptoms may include:

  • Blue color to the whites of the eyes
  • Brittle nails
  • Desire to eat ice or other non-food things (pica syndrome)
  • Light-headedness when you stand up
  • Pale skin color
  • Shortness of breath with mild activity or even at rest
  • Sore tongue
Exams and Tests:

The doctor will perform a physical examination, and may find:

  • A heart murmur
  • Low blood pressure, especially when you stand up
  • Pale skin
  • Rapid heart rate

Some types of anemia may cause other findings on a physical exam.

Blood tests used to diagnose some common types of anemia may include:

Other tests may be done to find medical problems that can cause anemia.


Treatment should be directed at the cause of the anemia, and may include:

  • Blood transfusions
  • Corticosteroids or other medicines that suppress the immune system
  • Erythropoietin, a medicine that helps your bone marrow make more blood cells
  • Supplements of iron, vitamin B12, folic acid, or other vitamins and minerals
Possible Complications:

Severe anemia can cause low oxygen levels in vital organs such as the heart, and can lead to a heart attack.

When to Contact a Medical Professional:

Call your health care provider if you have any symptoms of anemia or unusual bleeding.


Bunn HF. Approach to the anemias. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 158.

Marks PW. Approach to anemia in the adult and child. In: Hoffman R, Benz EJ Jr, Silberstein LE, Weitz JI, Anastasi J, eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 32.

Review Date: 2/13/2015
Reviewed By: Rita Nanda, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Section of Hematology/Oncology, University of Chicago Medicine, Chicago, IL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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