Different medical conditions, including anemia, can affect mental health. Anemia is characterized as a health condition involving a deficiency in hemoglobin, which helps red blood cells carry oxygen, according to an article on www.familydoctor.org.
Many women know how it can feel to lose too much blood during their menstrual cycles. Iron deficiency can be caused by heavier periods, and this can lead to anemia in some cases, according to an article on www.familydoctor.org. This type of anemia is referred to as iron deficiency anemia.
General mental health symptoms of anemia include fatigue, dizziness, headaches, difficulty thinking and concentrating, according to an article on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website.
Nzinga Harrison, a board-certified physician who specializes in general psychiatry and addiction, said in an email that anemia can have comparable symptoms to some mental health disorders.
“Anemia is one of the most prevalent illnesses in America that has mental health symptoms,” Harrison said. “The most common symptoms are fatigue, loss of energy, difficulty sleeping, heart racing and light headedness. When you compare those to the symptoms we use to diagnose depression, you can see the overlap: loss of energy, fatigue, difficulty sleeping.”
Anemia and anxiety can share some similar symptoms as well.
“The racing heart symptoms and light-headedness can sometimes be indistinguishable from the anxiety symptoms associated with panic attacks,” Harrison said. “So overlapping are the symptoms of anemia and depression, that psychiatrists will routinely check a CBC (complete blood count) to rule out anemia as a cause of depression or anxiety in women (the group that has the highest prevalence of anemia).”
Anemia can even impede the recovery process for people who formerly abused drugs and alcohol.
“While it is widely appreciated by psychiatrists that anemia can contribute to depressive and anxious symptoms, it is dramatically underappreciated that anemia can put individuals who are in recovery from drugs and alcohol at risk for relapse,” Harrison said. “The symptoms of fatigue, shakiness, light-headedness and racing heart can put individuals at risk for relapsing to stimulant type drugs (cocaine, adderall, ritalin) to try to boost energy, or alcohol to try to calm the racing heart and what feels like bad nerves.”
Douglas Beach, a doctor, said in an email that anemia usually isn’t the cause of mental health issues.
“Anemia [is] usually a sign or manifestation of [an] underlying disease process,” Beach said. “If the degree of anemia is severe, it can cause fatigue and exertional shortness of breath. Fatigue can have a direct impact on one's overall well-being and lead to feeling ‘depressed.’ However, mild anemia should have no effect. On the other hand, the underlying disorder causing the anemia is more likely to affect mood, such as chronic diseases like kidney disease, inflammatory arthritis, and an underactive thyroid. Anemia from vitamin deficiencies, such as B12 deficiency, can rarely be associated with depression and memory loss/dementia.”
How do you think anemia affects mental health? Do you have anemia and have you suffered any mental health effects? Share your stories below.
Familydoctor.org editorial staff. Anemia: When Low Iron Is the Cause. Web. August 3, 2011. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/blood/009.html
National Center for Biotechnology Information and the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Anemia – PubMed Health. Web. August 3, 2011.
Harrison, Nzinga. Email interview. August 3, 2011.
Beach, Douglas. Email interview. August 2, 2011.
Reviewed August 4, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith