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Understanding Anemia -- the Basics

What Causes Anemia? continued...

Anemia Caused by Decreased or Faulty Red Blood Cell Production

With this type of anemia, the body may produce too few blood cells or the blood cells may not function correctly. In either case, anemia can result. Red blood cells may be faulty or decreased due to abnormal red blood cells or a lack of minerals and vitamins needed for red blood cells to work properly. Conditions associated with these causes of anemia include the following:

  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Iron-deficiency anemia
  • Vitamin deficiency
  • Bone marrow and stem cell problems
  • Other health conditions

Sickle cell anemia is an inherited disorder that, in the U.S. affects mainly African-Americans and Hispanic Americans. Red blood cells become crescent-shaped because of a genetic defect. They break down rapidly, so oxygen does not get to the body's organs, causing anemia. The crescent-shaped red blood cells can also get stuck in tiny blood vessels, causing pain.

Iron-deficiency anemia occurs because of a lack of the mineral iron in the body. Bone marrow in the center of the bone needs iron to make hemoglobin, the part of the red blood cell that transports oxygen to the body's organs. Without adequate iron, the body cannot produce enough hemoglobin for red blood cells. The result is iron-deficiency anemia. This type of anemia can be caused by:

  • An iron-poor diet, especially in infants, children, teens, vegans, and vegetarians
  • The metabolic demands of pregnancy and breastfeeding that deplete a woman's iron stores
  • Menstruation
  • Frequent blood donation
  • Endurance training
  • Digestive conditions such as Crohn's disease or surgical removal of part of the stomach or small intestine
  • Certain drugs, foods, and caffeinated drinks

Vitamin-deficiency anemia may occur when vitamin B12 and folate are deficient. These two vitamins are needed to make red blood cells. Conditions leading to anemia caused by vitamin deficiency include:

  • Megaloblastic anemia: Vitamin B12 or folate or both are deficient
  • Pernicious anemia: Poor vitamin B12 absorption caused by conditions such as Crohn's disease, an intestinal parasite infection, surgical removal of part of the stomach or intestine, or infection with HIV
  • Dietary deficiency: Eating little or no meat may cause a lack of vitamin B12, while overcooking or eating too few vegetables may cause a folate deficiency.
  • Other causes of vitamin deficiency: pregnancy, certain medications, alcohol abuse, intestinal diseases such as tropical sprue and celiac disease

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