Anemia Treatment and Management
Your treatment for anemia will depend on its cause and how serious it is. People who have mild anemia may not need treatment. If your anemia is caused by medicines or another health condition, your doctor may change your treatment to manage or stop your anemia.
Your doctor may prescribe medicines to help your bone marrow make more red blood cells. If your anemia is caused by an disease, you may need medicines to suppress your immune system. Your immune system is your body's natural defense against germs and sickness.
For some types of mild to moderate anemia, your doctor may recommend prescription supplements:
- Iron supplements can increase the iron in your body. This may help treat iron-deficiency anemia. Iron supplements are generally not given to people who do not have iron-deficiency anemia because too much iron can damage your organs.
- Vitamin B12 supplements or shots can help treat vitamin B12–deficiency anemia.
A blood transfusion is a common, safe medical procedure in which healthy blood is given to you through an intravenous (IV) line that has been inserted in one of your blood vessels. Blood transfusions replace blood that is lost through surgery or injury, or they provide blood it if your body is not making it properly.
Most of the blood used for transfusions comes from whole blood donations given by volunteer blood donors. A person can also have their own blood collected and stored a few weeks before surgery in case it is needed.
After a doctor determines that you need a blood transfusion, he or she will test your blood to make sure that the blood you are given is a good match. Blood transfusions usually take 1 to 4 hours to complete. You will be monitored during and after the procedure.
Blood transfusions are usually very safe because donated blood is carefully tested, handled, and stored. However, there is a small chance that your body may have a mild to severe reaction to the donor blood. Other complications may include:
- Heart or lung problems
- Alloimmunization (when the body’s natural defense system attacks donor blood cells)
- Rare but serious reactions that occur when donated white blood cells attack your body’s healthy tissues
Some people have health problems from getting too much iron from frequent transfusions. There is also a very small chance of getting an infectious disease, such as hepatitis B or C or HIV, through a blood transfusion. For HIV, that chance is less than one in one million. Scientific research and careful medical controls make the supply of donated blood very safe.
Transfusions help people with serious anemia quickly increase the number of red blood cells in their blood. Your doctor may recommend this if you have serious complications of anemia.
Blood and bone marrow transplant
A bone (or blood) marrow transplant, also called a hematopoietic stem cell transplant, replaces faulty blood-forming stem cells with healthy cells.
Blood or bone marrow transplants are usually performed in a hospital. Often, you must stay in the hospital for one to two weeks before the transplant to prepare. You also will receive special medicines and possibly radiation to destroy your abnormal stem cells and to weaken your immune system so that it won’t reject the donor cells after the transplant.
On the day of the transplant, you will be awake and may get medicine to relax you during the procedure. The stem cells will be given to you through an IV (intravenous catheter). The stem cells will travel through your blood to your bone marrow, where they will begin making new healthy blood cells.
When the healthy stem cells come from you, the procedure is called an autologous transplant. When the stem cells come from another person, called a donor, it is an allogeneic transplant. For allogeneic transplants, your doctor will try to find a donor whose blood cells are the best match for you. Your doctor will consider using cells from your close family members, from people who are not related to you and who have registered with the National Marrow Donor Program, or from publicly stored umbilical cord blood.
Your doctor will keep watching your recovery, possibly for up to one year. After the transplant, your doctor will check your blood counts every day to see if new blood cells have started to grow in your bone marrow. The length of your recovery will depend on many factors. Before you leave the hospital, you will get detailed instructions on how to prevent infection and other complications.
Although blood or bone marrow transplant is an effective treatment for some conditions, the procedure can cause complications. The required medicines and radiation can cause side effects, including:
- Mouth sores
- Skin rashes
- Hair loss
- Liver damage
Blood and bone marrow transplants also can weaken your body’s natural defense against germs and sickness and raise your risk of infection. Some people may experience a serious complication called graft-versus-host disease if the donated stem cells attack the body. Other people may reject the donor stem cells after the transplant, which can be an extremely serious complication.
Surgery may be needed to stop internal bleeding.
Anemia and healthy eating habits
Healthy eating habits are essential for everyone. It is important to eat healthy to ensure your diet has iron-rich foods, as well as foods that contain vitamin B12.
How anemia may affect your health
If left untreated, anemia can raise your risk of the following health conditions:
- Heart problems, including an irregular heartbeat, a larger than normal heart, and heart failure
- Pregnancy complications
Anemia can also make other health conditions worse. In children, anemia can cause developmental delays.