Anaemia is a condition that affects your blood. Your blood is made up of fluid called plasma and blood cells, which include:
Blood cells are made by your bone marrow, which is a spongy substance in the centre of your bones.
There are different types of anaemia, which are categorised by their cause. These include:
For more information on specific types of anaemia, see Related topics.
Common symptoms of anaemia include:
These symptoms may be caused by problems other than anaemia. If you have any of these symptoms, see your GP for advice.
If you have anaemia, your heart has to work harder to get oxygen to your vital organs. If you don't get treatment, this may lead to problems with your heart and lungs. There are other complications related to specific types of anaemia. For more information, see Related topics.
There are many possible causes of anaemia. Most fall into the following four groups.
Your GP will ask about your symptoms and examine you. He or she may also ask about your medical history. If your GP suspects you have anaemia, he or she will ask you to have a blood test. Your blood will be sent to a laboratory for the following tests.
You may need to have further tests to help identify the cause of your anaemia. Depending on the type of anaemia you have, your GP may refer you to a specialist.
The treatment you have will depend on the cause of your anaemia, and it can vary considerably from person to person. For example, some people may just need to adjust their diet and take supplements of iron, folic acid or vitamin B12. Others may need to have a blood transfusion. If you have anaemia caused by kidney failure, you may need to have injections of the hormone erythropoietin (also known as Epo).
Your GP or specialist will always treat the underlying cause of your anaemia before considering a blood transfusion.
You can reduce your risk of developing anaemia by eating a healthy, balanced diet. This supplies all the vitamins most people need. Only take supplements if your GP recommends it.
The best sources of iron and vitamin B12 are red meat and fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals and bread. Fortified means particular nutrients are added to the food during their manufacture. Dark green vegetables, dried fruit such as raisins, apricots and prunes, beans and lentils are all also good sources of iron. Dairy products such as eggs are also a good source of vitamin B12.
The best sources of folate are green vegetables, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus and peas. Chickpeas and brown rice are also good sources of folate.
If you have a condition that affects how well you absorb nutrients, or if you’re pregnant, you may need to take supplements. It may benefit you to take iron tablets if you're menstruating. Ask your GP for advice.
Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Bupa Health Information Team, December 2013.