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Anemia: Risk Factors, Symptoms, and Signs

written by: Lashan Clarke • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 10/31/2008

Anemia is defined as a low blood level of iron, and there are various risk factors associated with it. A doctor will investigate additional signs, and the patient's symptoms to help confirm the diagnosis.

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    An Overview of Anemia

    Anemia is defined as a low blood iron level if considering it in simple terms. However, in medical terms, it is a low Hematocrit level and/or a low Hemoglobin level. This should be taken into consideration with the symptoms that someone will visit their doctor with. The age and sex of the person will also determine if they are suffering from the condition of anemia.

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    The Risk Factors of Anemia

    There are various risk factors associated with someone being diagnosed with Anemia. The most common risk factors include Neoplasia or cancer, alcoholism, a vegetarian or vegan diet, or exposure to certain medications. Anemia can also result from a bleeding in the gastro-intestinal track, or Sickle Cell Disease or Thalassemia. Thus, people of certain ethnic groups who are more prevalent to Thalassemia or Sickle Cell Disease can be diagnosed with anemia.

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    The Symptoms of Anemia

    If someone has anemia, they will go their doctor with certain symptoms. The most common symptom or feeling the person with anemia will have is weakness. They will feel as if they lack energy, will experience tiredness, and will state that they fatigue easily. There will also be symptoms of headaches that are constant.

    When someone with anemia exercises, they can experience dyspnea, or the “inability to breather properly.” This can be quite scary to someone if it happens while exercising.

    If the anemia is severe, there might be sharp pains in the chest known as angina. The person can experience a tight crushing pain as if they are being squeezed. If the anemia is severe enough, in addition to angina, there can be symptoms of dizziness as if they want to faint or they can actually have fainting spells. In very rare cases, a person with anemia who is lacking iron might develop strange cravings called pica for things such as ice or clay.

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    The Signs of Anemia

    After examining a patient with anemia, the doctor may find additional signs to confirm the diagnosis. The doctor might first look at the pallor of the skin, especially in the fingertips, and in the eyes. If these areas are pale, this might suggest that the person has anemia.

    The doctor can also listen to the heartbeat for signs of it beating too fast. This is called tachycardia, which is not only a sign of anemia. Other signs for more specific causes of anemia include a yellow tinge to the skin called jaundice, or an increase in the pulse pressure.

    Even though it might be obvious you have anemia, the doctor will need to extract a sample of blood to confirm this diagnosis. After it is confirmed, it is necessary to discuss what type of anemia you have, its cause, and how to treat it.