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Anemia occurs when you have a low number of healthy red blood cells, which provide oxygen to your body. Oxygen is carried inside the red cell by a protein called hemoglobin. Without enough oxygen, your organs and tissues can become damaged.

Anemia: what you should know

Anemia causes

Certain health conditions lead to the three main causes of anemia:

  • Blood loss
  • Lack of red blood cell production
  • Red blood cell destruction

Anemia types

Determining the cause of your anemia guides your doctor in choosing the appropriate treatment. The following are anemias commonly treated at Rush:

  • Aplastic anemia: Your bone marrow does not make enough new blood cells
  • Hemolytic anemia: Red blood cells are destroyed prematurely
  • Iron-deficiency anemia (the most common type): You do not have enough iron in your body to make hemoglobin, either because you are not eating enough iron-rich foods, your body is not absorbing enough iron, or you are losing blood
  • Sickle cell anemia: A genetic disorder in which the body makes abnormal hemoglobin, resulting in sickle-shaped red blood cells that can block blood flow
  • Pernicious anemia: Your body lacks a certain key nutrient, usually vitamin B12.
  • Refractory anemia: Your bone marrow is unable to make red blood cells, even though it has all the necessary nutrients and vitamins
  • Thalassemias: A group of inherited blood disorders where the body does not make enough red blood cells or hemoglobin

Anemia symptoms

Anemia has several classic symptoms:

How can I get help for anemia?

See your primary care doctor if you have anemia symptoms. Your doctor will order blood tests, such as a complete blood count (CBC). 

If you have anemia, your doctor may order more tests to determine the cause of your anemia. You may need to see a hematologist, a doctor who specializes in blood disorders.

Care for people with anemia at Rush

Your doctor has two treatment goals:

  • Identifying and treating the cause of your anemia
  • Raising your red blood cell count or hemoglobin level to a normal range, whenever possible

The treatment your doctor chooses will depend on the cause of your anemia and how severe it is:

  • Dietary adjustments and supplements: May be enough to help you feel better (for anemia caused by an iron or vitamin deficiency)
  • Medications: To stop your body from destroying red blood cells or help it make more
  • Blood transfusions: To give you healthy red blood cells (for severe or chronic anemia)
  • Bone marrow or stem cell transplant: To help your body make more healthy red blood cells (for aplastic anemia)
  • Surgery: To stop any internal bleeding
  • Spleen removal: If an enlarged or diseased spleen is causing your anemia

Why choose Rush for anemia care

  • Rush has doctors who specialize in treating adults and children with blood disorders and who are involved in clinical and laboratory research. That gives them a deeper understanding of the conditions and access to new treatments being tested in clinical trials.
  • If you require a bone marrow or stem cell transplant as part of your treatment, Rush is accredited by the National Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy.

Departments and programs that treat this condition