About This Condition
Anemia is a general term for a category of blood conditions that affect the red blood cells or the oxygen-carrying hemoglobin they contain.
In anemia, there is either a reduction in the number of red blood cells in circulation or a decrease in the amount or quality of hemoglobin. There are many causes of anemia, including severe blood loss, genetic disorders, and serious diseases. (See iron-deficiency anemia, pernicious anemia [vitamin B12–related], and sickle cell anemia.) Anyone with unexplained anemia should have the cause determined by a qualified doctor.
Some athletes appear to have anemia when their blood is tested, but this may be a normal adaptation to the stress of exercise,1 which does not need treatment. Further evaluation by a qualified doctor is necessary.
Some common symptoms of anemia include fatigue, lethargy, weakness, poor concentration, and frequent colds. A peculiar symptom of iron-deficiency anemia, called pica, is the desire to eat unusual things, such as ice, clay, cardboard, paint, or starch. Advanced anemia may also result in lightheadedness, headaches, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), irritability, pale skin, unpleasant sensations in the legs with an uncontrollable urge to move them, and getting out of breath easily.
Blood transfusions may be required to treat severe anemia.