Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Diagnosis of Nutritional Anemia

Many types of anemia are found early. This can happen when you have a blood test during a routine physical exam. It can also be found when you talk to your doctor about the problems you're having. Your doctor will also ask about your health record. If your doctor suspects you have anemia, then you'll be tested for it.

A complete blood count (CBC) tests the blood in your body. For anemia, red blood cells (RBCs) and hemoglobin levels are checked. With most types, if the level of hemoglobin is too low, a diagnosis can be made.

Once this happens, you will need to learn what type you have and what may be causing it. Your doctor may know this based on your health record and how you answer questions about your habits such as the foods you eat.

Common causes are:

  • Iron deficiency—can be found in the CBC test
  • Blood loss that happens slowly
  • Not getting enough vitamin B12
  • Not getting enough folic acid
  • Health problems such as rheumatoid arthritis or cancer

You may have these:

  • Blood smear—Blood is taken from your finger and smeared on a slide. RBCs can be looked at in a lab. How they look can help find the type. RBCs can be deformed, too big, too small, or too variable in size or shape.
  • Reticulocyte count—Counts young RBCs to see how fast they are being made. RBCs look different based on how old they are.
  • Serum iron, iron binding capacity, and ferritin—Tests to see if you have enough iron in your blood.
  • Folic acid and B12 levels.
  • Hemoglobin electrophoresis—Looks for any problems hemoglobin are caused by problems with your genes.
  • RBC fragility—Looks for weak RBCs that have a higher chance of being destroyed.
  • Coombs tests—Finds antibodies that make RBCs more fragile.
  • Bone marrow biopsy—Bone marrow tissue is taken and looked at in a lab.
REFERENCES:

Anemia. American Society of Hematology website. Available at: http://www.hematology.org/Patients/Anemia. Accessed October 12, 2018.

Anemia. National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/anemia. Accessed October 12, 2018.

Anemia—differential diagnosis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T240897/Anemia-differential-diagnosis. Updated January 21, 2016. Accessed October 12, 2018.

Complete blood count (CBC). Lab Tests Online—AACC website. Available at: https://labtestsonline.org/tests/complete-blood-count-cbc. Updated September 11, 2018. Accessed October 12, 2018.

Iron deficiency anemia in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115986/Iron-deficiency-anemia-in-adults. Updated August 16, 2018. Accessed October 12, 2018.

Overview of decreased erythropoiesis. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/hematology-and-oncology/anemias-caused-by-deficient-erythropoiesis/overview-of-decreased-erythropoiesis. Updated July 2018. Accessed October 12, 2018.

Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD  Last Updated: 10/12/2018