Red blood cells carry hemoglobin, an iron-rich protein that attaches to oxygen in the lungs and carries it to tissues throughout the body. Anemia occurs when you do not have enough red blood cells or when your red blood cells do not function properly. It is diagnosed when a blood test shows a hemoglobin value of less than 13.5 gm/dl in a man or less than 12.0 gm/dl in a woman. Normal values for children vary with age.
When you have anemia, your body lacks oxygen, so you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
Shortness of breath
Fast or irregular heartbeat
Pounding or "whooshing" in your ears
Cold hands or feet
Pale or yellow skin
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Am I at Risk?
Many people are at risk for anemia because of poor diet, intestinal disorders, chronic diseases, infections, and other conditions. Women who are menstruating or pregnant and people with chronic medical conditions are most at risk for this disease. The risk of anemia increases as people grow older. People who engage in vigorous athletic activities, such as jogging or basketball, may develop anemia as a result of red blood cells breaking down in the bloodstream.
If you have any of the following chronic conditions, you might be at greater risk for developing anemia:
Rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune disease
Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn disease or ulcerative colitis)
The signs and symptoms of anemia can easily be overlooked. In fact, many people do not even realize that they have anemia until it is identified in a blood test.