Understanding Anemia -- the Basics

What Is Anemia?

Anemia is a condition that develops when your blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a main part of red blood cells and binds oxygen. If you have too few or abnormal red blood cells, or your hemoglobin is abnormal or low, the cells in your body will not get enough oxygen. Symptoms of anemia -- like fatigue -- occur because organs aren't getting what they need to function properly.

Anemia is the most common blood condition in the U.S. It affects about 3.5 million Americans. Women, young children, and people with chronic diseases are at increased risk of anemia. Important factors to remember are:

  • Certain forms of anemia are hereditary and infants may be affected from the time of birth.
  • Women in the childbearing years are particularly susceptible to iron-deficiency anemia because of the blood loss from menstruation and the increased blood supply demands during pregnancy.
  • Older adults also may have a greater risk of developing anemia because of poor diet and other medical conditions.

There are many types of anemia. All are very different in their causes and treatments. Iron-deficiency anemia, the most common type, is very treatable with diet changes and iron supplements. Some forms of anemia -- like the mild anemia that develops during pregnancy -- are even considered normal. However, some types of anemia may present lifelong health problems.

What Causes Anemia?

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on June 26, 2016



American Academy of Family Physicians.

The American Medical Athletic Association.

Albemarle Pulmonary Medical Associates, PA.

Gary W. Tamkin, MD, Attending Physician, Highland General Hospital -- Alameda County Medical Center, Oakland.

Cornell University Department of Animal Science.


© 2016 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.