Anemia produces a variety of symptoms, including weakness, fatigue, and paleness (pallor). Depending on the cause, other symptoms may be present as well. The oxygen deprivation from anemia can make you feel tired and weak, dizzy, short of breath, and confused. Your skin may turn pale—particularly in places that are normally red such as your gums, nail beds, and inner eyelids.
Some people with an iron deficiency develop cravings for nonfood items, such as clay and detergent, a rare condition known as pica. Severe iron deficiency also may cause tongue irritation, cracks in the corners of the mouth, and a spoonlike deformity in the fingernails.
People with pernicious anemia often develop neurologic symptoms. A lack of B12 can initially produce tingling sensations in the hands and feet. This can progress to serious loss of neurologic function.
Although anemia can strike anyone at any age, it is more common in women and in older people. Iron loss from menstruation and vitamin deficiencies that develop during pregnancy and breastfeeding are the main reasons why younger women are five times more likely than younger men to develop anemia. However, aging increases anemia risk for everyone. One out of every 100 people over the age of 60 has been diagnosed with pernicious anemia. Gastrointestinal bleeding is a major contributor to anemia in older age groups.
Alcoholics, serious athletes, and people with chronic illnesses are at increased risk for anemia. Alcoholics often eat poorly, and the resulting malnutrition leads to anemia. Alcohol also hinders the absorption of nutrients important for preventing anemia. Additionally, internal bleeding, which is more likely in alcoholics, increases risk as well.
Intense physical training, such as that required for a marathon, sometimes results in gastrointestinal bleeding and damage to red blood cells, resulting in a condition called “sports anemia.”
Anyone who has a chronic illness that produces inflammation or bleeding is at increased risk for anemia.The kidneys are involved in producing a protein that helps in red cell production. People with chronic kidney disease often have anemia because their kidneys do not make enough of this protein.
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