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Anemia

A condition caused when the body does not have enough red blood cells or hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein in the blood that carries oxygen.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases)

Anemia

Anemia (uh-NEE-me-uh) is a condition in which your blood has a lower than normal number of red blood cells.

Anemia also can occur if your red blood cells don't contain enough hemoglobin (HEE-muh-glow-bin). Hemoglobin is an iron-rich protein that gives blood its red color. This protein helps red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

If you have anemia, your body doesn't get enough oxygen-rich blood. As a result, you may feel tired or weak. You also may have other symptoms, such as shortness of breath, dizziness, or headaches.

Severe or long-lasting anemia can damage your heart, brain, and other organs in your body. Very severe anemia may even cause death.

Overview

Blood is made up of many parts, including red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets (PLATE-lets), and plasma (the fluid portion of blood).

Red blood cells are disc-shaped and look like doughnuts without... Read more about Anemia

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Chronic Kidney Disease (Partial Update): Early Identification and Management of Chronic Kidney Disease in Adults in Primary and Secondary Care

The Renal National Service Framework (NSF), and the subsequent NICE Clinical Practice Guideline for early identification and management of adults with chronic kidney disease (CKD) in primary and secondary care (CG73), served to emphasise the change in focus in renal medicine from treatment of established kidney disease to earlier identification and prevention of kidney disease.

Blood transfusion for anaemia in patients with advanced cancer

Many patients admitted to a hospice are anaemic but only a small proportion receive a blood transfusion. Two of the main symptoms of anaemia are fatigue and breathlessness. This review aimed to identify whether blood transfusion was a useful treatment for patients with advanced cancer who were anaemic. We identified only 12 relevant studies but all were of low quality. They indicated that fatigue and breathlessness improved immediately after the transfusion but this began to wane after a period of two weeks. Of those receiving a transfusion, 31% to 70% had a transient benefit that lasted about two weeks.

The use of erythropoietin improve anaemia and reduces blood transfusions in surgery for cancer of the large bowel.

Patients with cancer of the large bowel are often anaemic and sometimes receive transfusions which may be harmful. The medication erythropoietin can be used to increase hemoglobin levels in a variety of situations and several studies have looked at this in patients who have surgery for their large bowel cancer. This systematic review of four studies found there is insufficient evidence to support the use of erythropoietin in the preoperative and post‐operative period for improving anaemia and decreasing blood transfusions. There was also no evidence that the medication was the cause of increased complications or deaths. Future studies or erythropoietin in large bowel cancer surgery should increase the dose or duration of treatment.

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Summaries for consumers

Blood transfusion for anaemia in patients with advanced cancer

Many patients admitted to a hospice are anaemic but only a small proportion receive a blood transfusion. Two of the main symptoms of anaemia are fatigue and breathlessness. This review aimed to identify whether blood transfusion was a useful treatment for patients with advanced cancer who were anaemic. We identified only 12 relevant studies but all were of low quality. They indicated that fatigue and breathlessness improved immediately after the transfusion but this began to wane after a period of two weeks. Of those receiving a transfusion, 31% to 70% had a transient benefit that lasted about two weeks.

The use of erythropoietin improve anaemia and reduces blood transfusions in surgery for cancer of the large bowel.

Patients with cancer of the large bowel are often anaemic and sometimes receive transfusions which may be harmful. The medication erythropoietin can be used to increase hemoglobin levels in a variety of situations and several studies have looked at this in patients who have surgery for their large bowel cancer. This systematic review of four studies found there is insufficient evidence to support the use of erythropoietin in the preoperative and post‐operative period for improving anaemia and decreasing blood transfusions. There was also no evidence that the medication was the cause of increased complications or deaths. Future studies or erythropoietin in large bowel cancer surgery should increase the dose or duration of treatment.

Blood transfusion for treating malarial anaemia

Malaria may cause anaemia. In areas where malaria is common and transmission is intense, many children are infected with the parasite, and severe anaemia can commonly cause death. Blood transfusions can be important for preventing deaths in very ill patients, although there are also some risks involved. This review was designed to assess the benefits and harms of giving a blood transfusion to all children with severe malarial anaemia but otherwise not in distress or severely unwell.

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More about Anemia

Photo of a young adult woman

Also called: Anaemia, Anemic

See Also: Aplastic Anemia, Fanconi Anemia, Hemolytic Anemia, Iron-Deficiency Anemia, Pernicious Anemia, Sickle Cell Anemia

Other terms to know:
Hematocrit, Hemoglobin, Red Blood Cells (Erythrocytes)

Related articles:
What Does Blood Do?
Blood Tests

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