What Causes Anemia?

There are two main reasons people become anemic: blood loss, a reduction in the body’s ability to produce new red blood cells, or an illness that leads to increased destruction of red blood cells.

Blood loss. When the amount of blood lost is greater than your body’s ability to replace the lost red blood cells, you can become anemic. Women who experience heavy menstrual periods, for example, and people who have internal bleeding due to ulcers or other digestive problems are at the greatest risk for anemia. Sometimes this type of blood loss is silent and unrecognized until anemia shows up on a blood test. External bleeding from surgery or trauma also can cause anemia.

Low production of red blood cells. Even if you’re not bleeding, old red blood cells constantly need to be replaced with new ones. A number of factors can cause your body to produce too few red blood cells, or red blood cells lacking in sufficient hemoglobin. These include:

Diet. If your diet is lacking in foods containing iron, folic acid, vitamin B12, and other essential nutrients, your red blood cell production can falter.

Medical conditions. Chronic illnesses like cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, and HIV/AIDS can interfere with the body’s ability to produce red blood cells. Women who are pregnant also can become anemic.

Genetic disorders. Children can inherit conditions, like aplastic anemia, that prevent them from producing enough red blood cells.Inherited conditions like sickle cell anemia and hemolytic anemia also can prompt the body to destroy red blood cells.

Increased red blood cell destruction. Certain diseases can cause your body to turn on its own red blood cells and destroy them. For example, you can become anemic due to an illness that affects your spleen, the organ that normally removes worn-out red blood cells from your body. A diseased or enlarged spleen can begin removing more red blood cells than necessary.

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.