Certain long-term medical conditions can cause anemia. Anemia is a low level of healthy red blood cells (RBCs). RBCs carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. When red blood cells are low, the body does not get enough oxygen.
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Anemia has several causes, but some may be unknown. Factors that play into anemia include:
Long-term illnesses that can lead to anemia, include:
Anyone with one of the conditions listed above may be at risk. There is a higher risk for it among the elderly.
Anemia often develops slowly. There may be few or no symptoms. Most symptoms are mild but may include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. Blood tests will show how many RBCs you have and how healthy they are. A diagnosis can be made based on blood tests and your health history.
Anemia may improve if the underlying disease is treated.
Blood transfusions may be needed if the anemia is severe. It will supply healthy RBCs from a donor.
Medicine may also be used to encourage the growth of RBCs. This group of medicine is called erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs). This medicine may not be an option because of side effects. It can make some cancers worse.
It is not clear how to prevent this anemia. Managing some chronic conditions may reduce the risk of anemia.
Iron Disorders Institute
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
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Last reviewed September 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD Last Updated: 9/13/2019