What is anemia? Anemia is a general term for having too few red blood cells in the blood. Red blood cells carry oxygen and nutrients through the bloodstream to the body’s cells. The most important element of red blood cells is called hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein that carries oxygen in the blood from the lungs to the body’s cells. Anemia occurs when the body is making too few healthy red blood cells; the body is losing blood (hemorrhage); or the body is destroying circulating red blood cells. Anemia is a common blood disorder, affecting more than three million people in the United States (Source: Women's Health). Anemia can occur in all age groups and populations, but it primarily affects women of childbearing age because of the loss of blood during menstruation. Anemia is a potentially serious condition that can be caused by a wide variety of diseases, disorders and conditions. These include: Autoimmune diseases Bleeding or hemorrhage Chronic diseases Inherited diseases Malabsorption Malignancy and treatments for malignancy, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy Nutritional deficiencies Transfusion reaction Trauma Common symptoms of anemia include hypotension (low blood pressure) and unusually pale skin (pallor). Many symptoms of anemia are due to a reduced amount of hemoglobin. This results in inadequate delivery of oxygen to the body’s cells and symptoms that include: Dizziness Fainting Fatigue Palpitations Shortness of breath Weakness Anemia and its symptoms can occur suddenly, such as when it is caused by hemorrhage, or anemia can develop gradually, such as in pernicious anemia (vitamin B12 deficiency). Treatment of anemia involves diagnosing and treating its underlying cause. Some conditions can be successfully treated and cured, while others may require more intensive treatment. Treatment also depends on your age, general health status, medical history, and other factors. In some severe cases, treatment may include a blood transfusion. Complications of severe anemia can be serious and life threatening. Complications can include shock and stroke. Underlying diseases, disorders or conditions of anemia can also cause critical complications. Seek prompt medical care if you have symptoms of anemia, such as mild dizziness or weakness, or if you have a low energy level and tire easily. Prompt diagnosis and treatment of anemia and its underlying cause reduces the risk of serious complications. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, has an unusual change in alertness, shortness of breath, chest pain, or bleeding symptoms, such as bleeding heavily from the rectum, bloody stools, or vomiting blood.