• The most common symptoms of anemia are fatigue, dizziness, pale skin, cold hands and feet, shortness of breath and irregular heartbeat. Many anemic patients have a characteristic pallor, like the woman in this photo.

  • Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia. Many different factors can cause iron deficiency, including a lack of the nutrient in the diet, heavy menstrual periods or bleeding caused by stomach ulcers. This photo illustrates the differences between the hand of a patient with iron deficiency anemia (left) and the healthy pink skin of a normal hand (right).

  • The unusually large erythroblasts pictured here, also known as megaloblasts, are a trademark of patients with pernicious anemia, which is caused by vitamin B12 deficiency. Pernicious anemia is common among vegetarians, alcoholics and those who do not consume enough green, leafy vegetables.

  • Glossitis, or inflammation of the tongue in which papillae are lost and the surface appears smooth, can be a symptom of pernicious anemia. Patients with glossitis may experience changes in the color of the tongue, soreness or tenderness and difficulty speaking or chewing.

  • Pregnant women are at higher risk of anemia, particularly during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters, when the amount of blood in the body increases by 20% to 30%. Many pregnant women lack sufficient amounts of iron and other vitamins to produce adequate amounts of hemoglobin, so clinicians may prescribe an iron supplement. Women who are significantly anemic during pregnancy are at greater risk for preterm labor, can lose significant amounts of blood during delivery and are at greater risk for infection.

  • Aplastic anemia is a rare and serious form of anemia caused by damage to bone marrow, in which the body does not produce enough new blood cells, predisposing the patient to higher risk for uncontrolled bleeding and infections. This photo shows the pale inner eyelid of a patient with aplastic anemia. Causes include long-term or serious illnesses, such as kidney disease, cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, HIV/AIDS, inflammatory bowel disease, liver disease, heart failure and thyroid disease.

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Anemia is a blood disorder characterized by a lack of red blood cells, which prevents the body from carrying adequate amounts of oxygen to tissue.

There are three main causes of anemia – decreases in hemoglobin production, blood loss and destruction of red blood cells. It is a common disorder, occurring in all ages, genders and racial/ethnic groups. Women of child-bearing age are at higher risk than men due to loss of blood during menstruation. Patients with cancer may develop anemia due to chemotherapy, radiation therapy (if the long bones containing marrow are in the radiation field, or the cancer itself.

Most forms of anemia are mild, short term and easily treated, but some can be severe, long-lasting and life-threatening if left untreated. Clinicians should perform a complete blood count (CBC) in patients with suspected anemia to determine the type and severity of the disorder.

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