Tired again? Or have you been feeling uncharacteristically grumpy lately? Fatigue or irritability could be signs of anemia. Other symptoms include

  • weakness
  • trouble concentrating
  • sexual dysfunction
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness

Anemia occurs when you don't have enough hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that picks up and transports oxygen throughout your body. The risk of anemia generally increases with age. But anemia is often overlooked. Many people don't suspect they may have the condition since the symptoms resemble what they wrongly assume are a natural part of aging.

Yet anemia that's not properly diagnosed and treated can have an impact on your health: Studies show that anemia can exacerbate the symptoms of underlying heart disease and be a risk factor for frailty.

A blood test can reveal any abnormality in your hemoglobin and red blood cell levels. Additional tests determine the type of anemia you may have:

  • Iron-deficiency anemia can result from a decreased ability to absorb nutrients from food, malnutrition, a strict vegetarian diet and chronic, low-level gastrointestinal bleeding. Your doctor will likely prescribe iron supplements.
  • Anemia of chronic disease is caused by chronic inflammation from an underlying illness such as chronic infection, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease and cancer. Your doctor may give you injections of a hormone to boost hemoglobin production, but anemia of chronic disease is usually reversible by treating the infection or inflammation source.
  • Pernicious anemia is caused by a deficiency of vitamin B12, needed for red blood cell production. In severe cases, a vitamin B12 deficiency can cause neurological damage. Fortunately, this type of anemia is rare and can be cured by vitamin B12 injections.

There are genetic forms of anemia, too. Sickle-cell anemia tends to be more common among African Americans, and thalassemia is more common among people of Mediterranean and South-Asian descent.

Source: Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 21 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 02 Oct 2014