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Anemia means that red blood cells or the amount of hemoglobin in red blood cells is low. Hemoglobin is a protein that carries oxygen in red blood cells. Common types of anemia are low amounts of iron, folic acid (a B-vitamin), and vitamin B12.


Signs & Symptoms

•  Tiredness.

•  Weakness.

•  Paleness. This could be pale skin or paleness around the gums, nailbeds, or the linings of the lower eyelids.

•  Shortness of breath.

•  Heart palpitations or rapid heartbeat.

•  Cravings for unusual things, such as laundry starch, dirt, or ice.

When folic acid is low, extra symptoms can occur. These include: Appetite loss and weight loss; nausea and diarrhea, swollen abdomen, and a sore, red tongue that looks glazed. When vitamin B12 is low, extra symptoms include: Chest pain on exertion; appetite loss and weight loss; nausea and diarrhea, a hard time concentrating, and a sore, red tongue that looks glazed. If vitamin B12 is very low, nervous system problems occur. These include: Numbness and tingling of the hands and feet; walking and balance problems; memory loss, confusion, dementia, or psychosis. This is known as pernicious anemia.


•  Anemia from low iron. Often, the cause is blood loss from menstruation in females, peptic ulcers, and other medical problems.

•  Anemia from low folic-acid. The cause is lack of folic acid in the diet.

•  Anemia from low vitamin B12. This usually results when the body doesn’t absorb vitamin B12 from food, not a lack of vitamin B12 in the diet.


Anemia shares symptoms with many health problems. It needs to be diagnosed by a doctor. Treatment for it depends on the type and what caused it. This includes:

•  Treating the problem that caused it.

•  Proper diet and vitamin and/or mineral supplements, as prescribed. {Note: Don’t take iron supplements on your own. Persons with a genetic illness called hemochromatosis (iron overload disease) can be harmed with iron supplements.}

•  Vitamin B12 shots, if needed.

Persons with severe anemia may need one or more blood transfusions.

Questions to Ask

Self-Care / Prevention

Follow your doctor’s treatment plan.

To Get and Absorb Iron

•  Eat foods that are good sources of iron: Lean, red meats; green, leafy vegetables; beef liver; poultry; fish; wheat germ; oysters; dried fruit; and iron-fortified cereals.

•  Eat foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, and strawberries. Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron from plant foods.

•  Take the supplements your doctor advises.

•  If you drink tea, drink it between meals. Tannins in tea block iron absorption. Or, add milk to tea. The calcium in milk binds with the tannins. (Herbal tea does not have tannins.)

•  Avoid antacids, the food additive EDTA, and phosphates (found in soft drinks, beer, ice cream, etc.). These block iron absorption.

To Get and Absorb Folic Acid

•  Eat good food sources of folate every day. Examples are asparagus, brussels sprouts, spinach, collard greens, broccoli, peas, oranges, cantaloupe, oatmeal, and whole-grain cereals.

•  Eat fresh, raw fruits and vegetables often. Don’t overcook food. Heat destroys folic acid.

•  Take the supplement your doctor advises.

•  Don’t smoke. Don’t drink alcohol.

For Getting B12

•  Eat animal sources of food. Good choices are lean meats, fish, poultry, nonfat or low-fat dairy products, and cereals with added vitamin B12.

•  Strict vegetarians (vegans) who eat no animal sources of food may need a vitamin B12 supplement or foods fortified with it.

This website is not meant to substitute for expert medical advice or treatment. Follow your doctor’s or health care provider’s advice if it differs from what is given in this guide.


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