Chances are good that you've heard of anemia before, whether from a doctor or because someone you know has it: Anemia is the most common blood condition in the United States, affecting about 3.4 million Americans. It happens when the you don't have enough healthy red blood cells in your body. Since red blood cells carry oxygen to all of the body's tissue, a low count means that you also have a low amount of oxygen in your blood. This is what causes many of the symptoms that come with the condition, and those can vary. The signs that you have anemia can be a little tricky to pinpoint, so it's good to be aware of what they are.
The people who are most at risk for anemia include women and anyone with a chronic disease, including inflammatory bowel syndrome, thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer. Women who are pregnant are also at risk. Of course, anyone can have anemia, but if you're in one of these groups, know your risk is a bit higher.
There are several different types of anemia, and the causes of and treatments for each type vary. For example, if you have iron-deficiency anemia, which is the most common form, it's probably because of blood loss and you'll likely need dietary supplements. If your anemia is because of a chronic disease, it will decrease as you treat that disease.
While anemia isn't a fatal condition, it is often seen as a sign of a more serious underlying medical condition. That's exactly why it's so important to get checked out if you think you might be anemic — it could be a warning that something else is going on. Check out the signs you have anemia, and be sure to talk to your doctor if they apply to you.
1. You're Pale
OK, so of course this doesn't mean that if you naturally have pale skin, you have anemia. But if you notice certain parts of your body are more pale than they should be, that could be a sign. Because the hemoglobin in red blood cells give blood its red color, lower levels will make the blood less red, meaning you'll look more pale. Someone with anemia will typically have pale skin — and that paleness could be all over, or just in one spot.
2. You Have Difficulty Focusing
If you find that it's hard to concentrate and really focus on something, it could be a sign of anemia. Remember how anemia is due to a loss of oxygen in the blood? Well, that doesn't only have an impact on red blood cell production — it also affects oxygen delivery to other organs and affects our mood and energy levels. It can easily make one feel super distracted and kind of out of it.
3. You Feel Exhausted All The Time
On that same note, anemia will make you feel exhausted — in fact, fatigue is one of the most common symptoms and affect more than half of those who are iron-deficient. The less oxygen that reaches your tissues and muscles, the less energy they'll have. Your heart will then have to work harder to move the blood through your body, making you feel run-down and sleepy.
4. Or You Suffer From Insomnia
While exhaustion is a super common sign of anemia, a conflicting sign could be insomnia, which makes things confusing. Research has found that anemia causes restless leg syndrome, which can cause insomnia. The same research found that when the restless leg syndrome was treated, the insomnia disappears. So while anemia itself doesn't cause insomnia, symptoms of it will.
5. You Notice Hair Loss
Hair loss isn't just hereditary — it can be caused by a lack of nutrients. When you're anemic, you have an iron deficiency. When you don't have enough iron, your body can't produce hemoglobin in your blood, which carries oxygen that aides in the growth and repair of cells in your body — like the cells that make your hair grow. When those cells can't be created, your hair can't grow, and may even fall out. This is tough sign to watch out for since there can be so many causes of hair loss in general.
6. You Have Dry and Damaged Hair and Skin
If you don't experience hair loss, then you'll probably experience dry and damaged hair and skin. That loss of iron affecting the oxygen in your blood doesn't always lead to dramatic hair loss; sometimes it just means you'll feel super dry, and your hair won't grow. Your skin may feel like you can never get it hydrated.
7. You Get Headaches And Experience Dizziness
Again, low levels of hemoglobin in your blood mean that your brain isn't receiving enough oxygen. Not only can that make you feel foggy, confused, and exhausted, but it can also cause painful headaches and dizziness. If you get unexplained headaches and often feel like you're floating or just very dizzy, that could mean you're anemic.
8. You Have Leg Cramps
Someone who is anemic will typically experience leg cramps about exercising or doing a lot of physical activity. That's because your blood is seriously struggling to circulate correctly, and your legs are far from your heart.
9. You Have Strange Cravings
One of the weirdest signs of anemia is cravings for really, really strange food, or even non-food items. Many people who are anemic will randomly crave ice, clay, dirt, chalk, or paper. This is called "pica," and it could be a sign of iron deficiency.
10. Your Hands and Feet Are Cold
Again, anemia means that your blood isn't being circulated properly — and that means that certain parts of your body are going to feel super cold quite often. That's especially true for your hands and feet.
11. Your Nails Are Brittle
Severe anemia can cause your nails to become brittle, meaning they chip and crack very easily. One symptom of anemia that isn't very common is spoon-shaped fingernails, which is referred to as koilonychia. It happens when your nails are so brittle they crack constantly.
12. You're Short Of Breath
When your oxygen levels are low throughout your body, of course your breathing is going to be affected. As your body tries to get more oxygen, your breathing rate will increase. Shortness of breath is a common symptom of anemia and will happen during normal tasks that shouldn't be making you feel like you're gasping for air.