Recognizing the Early Signs of Anemia

Anemia (an inadequate supply of red blood cells) can cause symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and dizziness. Other possible signs of this condition include rapid heartbeat, chest pain, difficulty staying warm, loss of sex drive, and pale skin. Anemia is more common in women than men and may occur in a variety of chronic conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, ankylosing spondylitis, other inflammatory conditions and cancer as a result of cancer treatment or as a result of the cancer itself.

In addition to making you feel bad, anemia can cause or worsen other health problems. In some patients, for example, anemia can contribute to heart problems. Anemia may also interfere with your ability to receive recommended treatment.

The most common type of anemia results from iron deficiency, which is easily treated with replacement iron. If anemia becomes severe, it may require treatment with a blood transfusion. Blood transfusions carry some risks, highlighting the importance of early detection of anemia; early detection and treatment of anemia may reduce the need for blood transfusion. If you experience symptoms of anemia, you should discuss them with your doctor.

Anemia can be diagnosed with a blood test known as a complete blood count (CBC). Non-transfusion approaches to managing anemia include dietary changes and use of medications known as erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs). ESAs increase red blood cell production by the body. You may wish to talk with your doctor about the potential risks and benefits of ESA use and about which patients are candidates for ESAs.

Learn more about anemia and other side effects of cancer treatment.