Anemia refers to a deficiency of red (oxygen carrying) cells in the circulation. Anemia may be

  • acquired
    • nutritional - as in nutritional iron deficiency - the most common anemia of children
    • caused by acute or chronic blood loss, as in inflammatory bowel disease or ulcer disease, or most commonly, milk baby syndrome
    • caused by disease
      • leukemia - cancer cells crowd out the red cell forming cells of the bone marrow
      • certain chronic diseases such as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis which suppress the bone marrow production of red cells
      • direct destruction of red cells by abnormal antibodies formed in a disease state, for example certain autoimmune diseases, or normal antibodies from a newborn's mother abnormally present in the baby's bloodstream
  • hereditary
    • sickle cell, thallassemia - abnormal forms of hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying molecule of red cells
    • spherocytosis - abnormal red cell membranes

Signs and symptoms of anemia include increased fatigue or exercise intolerance, pallor (pale skin), and heart murmurs. Mild to moderate anemia can be difficult to recognise by degree of pallor. Having a fair or pale complexion is not the same as the pallor of anemia, which is chiefly manifest in the normally healthy red tissues of the skin, such as the lips, oral mucous membranes (gums, tongue, and inner cheeks), and the inner surface of the eyelids. The most dramatic anemias are those which are chronic, as in milk baby syndrome, in which the anemia develops over many months and the body is able to compensate fairly well.

Treatment of anemia is usually nutritional (iron supplementation) and rarely transfusion (because of the risks of transfusion, generally done only in cases where nutrition cannot correct the anemia to a safe level fast enough). Anemia caused by disease is often addressed by treatment of the disease; in hereditary spherocytosis, the spleen is removed surgically.

See also hemolytic anemia. And the complete blood count or CBC may interest you as well.

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