Anemia occurs when there are too few red blood cells in the body. At Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), our team of experts provides comprehensive diagnostic and medical care for people with this blood condition.
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What is anemia?
Anemia is not a disease per se, but rather an indicator of an underlying disorder that was either inherited or acquired after birth. The causes of anemia include:
- Impaired red blood cell production
- Red blood cell destruction (hemolysis)
- Increased red blood cell loss (such as from bleeding)
Anemia can be reversible or chronic.
Red blood cells contain hemoglobin — an iron-rich protein that gives blood its red color. Hemoglobin enables the blood cells to carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body and to carry carbon dioxide from other parts of your body back to your lungs to be exhaled. When your level of red blood cells is low, this process is impaired, and your body doesn’t get as much oxygen as it needs.
Decreased red blood cells can occur in isolation or in combination with a decrease in other types of blood cells.
Symptoms and diagnosis of anemia
When your blood cannot deliver enough oxygen to the rest of your body, you may feel weak, dizzy, or short of breath. You may notice chest pain, a rapid or irregular heartbeat, headaches, cold hands and feet, or pale skin. If anemia is mild or develops slowly over a long period, you may have no symptoms at all.
SCCA offers a full array of services to diagnose anemia and determine the cause.
Your doctor will ask about your medical history and examine you. The presence of anemia is established by a blood test, called a complete blood count (CBC) and differential, which measures the number of red blood cells and other types of cells in the blood. When investigating the cause of anemia, it’s important for your doctor to measure the number of young red blood cells your body is making (reticulocyte count). This will help your doctor interpret the CBC and direct additional testing.
Another option to help determine the cause of anemia is a bone marrow aspiration and biopsy, in which a doctor uses a hollow needle to extract tiny samples of bone marrow while you are under local anesthesia. This allows your doctor to study your blood cell development.
Red blood cell transfusion can increase the number of red blood cells in patients with symptomatic anemia. Additional treatments are directed at the underlying cause of the low red blood cell level.
SCCA’s team of doctors provides a comprehensive range of treatment options for anemia and the conditions that may lead to it. To find detailed information on treatments for specific types of anemia, click on any of the following disorders:
- Aplastic anemia
- Diamond-Blackfan anemia
- Fanconi anemia
- Hemolytic anemia
- Iron-deficiency anemia
- Pernicious anemia (B12 deficiency)
- Sickle cell disease
You can also visit our alphabetical list of blood disorders to find other conditions that may affect blood cell counts.