Anemia And Fatigue

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Harvard Medical School
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Anemia And Fatigue

Anemia And Fatigue
Anemia And Fatigue
Left untreated, anemia can lead to a lack of energy and, more seriously, strokes, heart attacks and even death.
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Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School


What Is Anemia?
Anemia means that your hemoglobin level is below normal. Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells. It binds oxygen and carries it to the body's cells. Usually, people with anemia also have a decreased number of red blood cells. People with anemia have less capacity to take oxygen from the lungs and deliver it to the rest of the body.
Anemia may occur when:
  • You lose blood
  • You cannot produce enough new red blood cells in your bone marrow, perhaps because you are deficient in one or more nutrients (such as iron)
  • You have a condition that causes red blood cells to be destroyed before the end of their usual 120-day life span
What Is Fatigue?
Fatigue is a feeling of weariness or exhaustion. It may make you feel as if everything you do takes just a little more effort than usual. Or it may make you think that being a "couch potato" suddenly has appeal.
Are They Related?
Anemia can, and often does, cause fatigue. There is less oxygen supply to your heart and muscles, so you have less energy to perform your usual activities. However, most people with fatigue do not have anemia. There are many other causes of fatigue, such as depression, emotional stress, insomnia, physical exhaustion, and a variety of medical problems.
The Symptoms Of Anemia

When anemia develops slowly, your body is able to partially compensate for the lack of red blood cells, so many people are not aware they have anemia until it is diagnosed on a routine blood test. If the hemoglobin level falls quickly or gets too low over a longer period of time, you will feel the difference.

The first symptoms of anemia are often mild weakness and fatigue. As the number of red blood cells drops further, common symptoms include shortness of breath, lightheadedness (especially with standing), rapid heartbeat, pale skin, marked weakness and difficulty exercising.

More severe anemia may lead to lethargy and confusion, and in patients with pre-existing heart or lung disease, may result in potentially life-threatening complications such as congestive heart failure, angina (chest pain), or heart attack.

Diagnosing Anemia
Because anemia can precede any symptoms you might experience, the disorder is most commonly diagnosed through blood tests. A test for anemia is included in a CBC, or complete blood cell count. This is an analysis of a blood sample drawn at your doctor's office or in a laboratory.




Last updated September 18, 2014

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