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Understanding Anemia -- Diagnosis and Treatment

How Do I Know if I Have Anemia?

To diagnose anemia, your doctor will likely ask you about your medical history, perform a physical exam, and order blood tests.

You can help by providing detailed answers about your symptoms, family medical history, diet, medications you take, alcohol intake, and ethnic background. Your doctor will look for symptoms of anemia and other physical clues that might point to a cause.

Understanding Anemia

Find out more about anemia:

Basics

Symptoms

Diagnosis and Treatment

There are basically three different causes of anemia: blood loss, decreased or faulty red blood cell production, or destruction of red blood cells.

Blood tests will not only confirm the diagnosis of anemia, but also help point to the underlying condition. Tests might include:

  • Complete blood count (CBC), which determines the number, size, volume, and hemoglobin content of red blood cells
  • Blood iron level and your serum ferritin level, the best indicators of your body's total iron stores
  • Levels of vitamin B12 and folate, vitamins necessary for red blood cell production
  • Special blood tests to detect rare causes of anemia, such as an immune attack on your red blood cells, red blood cell fragility, and defects of enzymes, hemoglobin, and clotting
  • Reticulocyte count, bilirubin, and other blood and urine tests to determine how quickly your blood cells are being made or if you have a hemolytic anemia, where your red blood cells have a shortened life span

Only in rare cases will a doctor need to remove a sample of bone marrow to determine the cause of your anemia.

What Are the Treatments for Anemia?

Your doctor will not treat your anemia until the underlying cause has been established. The treatment for one type of anemia may be both inappropriate and dangerous for another type of anemia.

Anemia Caused by Blood Loss
If you suddenly lose a large volume of blood, you may be treated with fluids, a blood transfusion, oxygen, and possibly iron to help your body build new red blood cells. Chronic blood loss is treated by identifying the source of bleeding, stopping the bleeding, and, if necessary, providing treatment for iron-deficiency anemia.

Anemia Caused by Decreased Red Blood Cell Production
The type of treatment you receive depends on the cause of decreased red blood cell production.

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