Anemia Causes and Risk Factors

You may develop anemia if your body doesn’t make enough red blood cells or loses too many red blood cells. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin . Hemoglobin is an iron-rich protein that helps red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. Many conditions can cause anemia. Mild anemia is a common condition that can develop in anyone. Serious anemia may be a sign of another health condition.

What causes anemia?

Some types of anemias are caused by factors you can’t change, like your family history or your age. Other anemias are caused by factors you can manage, like eating habits or other health conditions that control how your body makes red blood cells.

  • Age: As you age, your chances of developing anemia increase.5
  • Blood loss: Any condition that causes you to lose a lot of blood increases your risk of anemia. While this can include blood lost during the menstrual cycle, anemia due to bleeding too much from your menstrual cycle is not normal. See your doctor if your periods are heavy (you need to change your tampon or pad after less than 2 hours or you pass clots the size of quarters or larger). Bleeding can also lead to anemia if you have other risk factors. These include bleeding due to inflammation in the stomach or bowels, or bleeding from surgery, a serious injury, or donating blood often.
  • Family history: If you have a family history of inherited types of anemia, you may have an increased risk.
  • Lifestyle habits: People who do not get nutrients like iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid to make healthy red blood cells have a higher risk of anemia.2 Drinking too much alcohol also raises your risk of anemia.
  • Other health conditions: Chronic (long-term) kidney disease, inflammation from an infection, cancer, or an autoimmune disease can cause your body to make fewer red blood cells. Certain medicines or treatments such as chemotherapy for cancer can also raise your risk of anemia.

Can you prevent anemia?

You can take steps to prevent some types of anemia. Your doctor may recommend eating more foods rich in iron or vitamin B12, such as leafy vegetables, meat, milk, and eggs. Your doctor may also talk to you about iron or vitamin B12 supplements. If you are a strict vegetarian or vegan, talk to your doctor about how to get all the nutrients you need in your diet.

Anemia that is caused by your genes cannot be prevented. If you plan to have children and have an inherited type of anemia, you can talk to a genetic counselor. A genetic counselor can answer questions about the risk and explain what choices are available.

Last updated on