Anemia is a common condition. It occurs in all age, racial, and ethnic groups. Both men and women can have anemia. However, women of childbearing age are at higher risk for the condition because of blood loss from menstruation.
Anemia can develop during pregnancy due to low levels of iron and folic acid (folate) and changes in the blood. During the first 6 months of pregnancy, the fluid portion of a woman's blood (the plasma) increases faster than the number of red blood cells. This dilutes the blood and can lead to anemia.
During the first year of life, some babies are at risk for anemia because of iron deficiency. At-risk infants include those who are born too early and infants who are fed breast milk only or formula that isn't fortified with iron. These infants can develop iron deficiency by 6 months of age.
Infants between 1 and 2 years of age also are at risk for anemia. They may not get enough iron in their diets, especially if they drink a lot of cow's milk. Cow's milk is low in the iron needed for growth.
Drinking too much cow's milk may keep an infant or toddler from eating enough iron-rich foods or absorbing enough iron from foods.
Older adults also are at increased risk for anemia. Researchers continue to study how the condition affects older adults. Many of these people have other medical conditions as well.
Major Risk Factors
Factors that raise your risk for anemia include:
- A diet that is low in iron, vitamins, or minerals
- Blood loss from surgery or an injury
- Long-term or serious illnesses, such as kidney disease, cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, HIV/AIDS, inflammatory bowel disease (including Crohn's disease), liver disease, heart failure, and thyroid disease
- Long-term infections
- A family history of inherited anemia, such as sickle cell anemia or thalassemia