What is Anemia? What to Expect From Anemia Testing

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You’ve probably heard the term anemia before and even loosely applied it to yourself and a certain set of symptoms you might feel. But what exactly is anemia and how can you be sure you actually struggle with this ailment, rather than self-diagnosing it?

Yes, anemia is fairly common. But in order to diagnose this condition, you’ll need to undergo thorough anemia testing with a qualified professional. This is the only way you’ll be able to get a handle on living with anemia and managing your symptoms correctly.

Let’s take a closer look at what happens to the body when you have anemia and what you can expect from medical testing.

What Is Anemia, Anyway?

Anemia is a disorder of the blood — it’s not only related to iron deficiency, as many people tend to assume. It’s caused by a decreased amount of red blood cells and a lack of hemoglobin that carries essential amounts of oxygen around the body.

As mentioned, this condition is common. In fact, it’s the most common blood disorder across the U.S. today. The thing about anemia is that its effects can be far-reaching or quite mild. It depends on the type of anemia you have.

However, the most common symptoms of anemia include chronic fatigue, headaches, and shortness of breath. And naturally, you could confuse these symptoms with any other ailment, too.

What To Expect from Anemia Testing and Procedures

Due to the fact that there are many different types of anemia, you’ll need to undergo anemia testing to determine a precise diagnosis. This way, your doctor can assess your anemia blood test results and the underlying cause.

Yes, there are at-home anaemia test kits you can use. But if your symptoms are chronic, it’s always best to visit a doctor and undergo thorough diagnostic testing.

Here’s what your doctor might test for:

A Complete Blood Count

This is the most common test to confirm a case of anemia. A complete blood count (CBC), measures a number of different elements within the blood. But the most important elements it tests for are your hemoglobin count and hematocrit levels.

Hemoglobin is important for transporting oxygen around the body. While hematocrit is the measure of space between your red blood cells within your blood. If either of these levels measures low, you could suffer from anemia.

This type of anemia test also measures other important variables. Some of these include your white blood cell count, blood platelets, and total red blood cell count. If any of these levels come back as abnormal, you might need to undergo further testing for other blood disorders, infections, or other types of anemia.

A CBC also measures the size of your red blood cells and how much oxygen they’re able to carry around the body. This is called the mean corpuscular volume (MCV). In those with anemia, red blood cells are usually much smaller than normal.

Further Testing

Very often if your CBC tests results indicate that you have anemia, you’ll need to undergo further diagnostic testing. This is to determine the type of anemia you could have. Some of these tests include:

  • Hemoglobin electrophoresis determines the types of hemoglobin you have and can accurately indicate your type of anemia
  • A reticulocyte count determines the overall number of red blood cells you have. It also indicates how well your bone marrow produces red blood cells
  • Iron level testing such as serum iron, ferritin testing, transferrin levels, and iron-binding capacity rates

Aside from these tests, it’s important to note that anemia could have many other causes. If none of these tests deliver conclusive results, your doctor might test for kidney issues, lead poisoning, or a major vitamin deficiency. Then there’s also the chance of internal bleeding — although very rare.

Your doctor will order an internal test and ask for a stool sample (that you can do at home), which is then tested in a laboratory.

What Is the Treatment for Anemia?

If you’re diagnosed with anemia, the treatment you receive depends on your specific type of anemia and what’s causing it. Here are some of the most common treatment options you can expect for the various forms of anemia:

Iron-Deficient Anemia

This is probably one of the most common forms of anemia today. The treatment is simple though — you’ll need to make adjustments to your diet and begin taking iron supplements.

In severe cases, you might need direct iron transfusions into a vein. Iron deficiencies can be a result of loss of blood. If it’s not related to menstruation, you’ll need to undergo further testing and possibly surgery to find and stop the blood loss.

Vitamin-Deficient Anemia

You might have chronically low levels of certain key vitamins that cause your anemia. These vitamins often include vitamin C, folic acid, or vitamin B12. The same treatment as above applies. You’ll need to adjust your diet and begin taking supplements to replace the nutrients in your diet.

In some conditions, a person’s digestive system might struggle to properly absorb vitamin B12. If this is the case, you might need to receive regular B12 shots.

Chronic Disease Anemia

This is a more severe type of anemia that might affect a person for life. In many instances, there is no specific treatment plan for this type of anemia, but your doctor will treat the underlying cause/s of the disease.

Depending on how severe your symptoms are, you might need to receive regular blood transfusions or an injection of a synthetic hormone called erythropoietin. This helps to boost red cell production and minimize fatigue.

Aplastic Anemia

This is another severe type of anemia that can have a significant impact on your quality of life. Treatment for aplastic anemia usually involves regular blood transfusions to bump up your red blood cell count.

In some cases, you might need to receive a bone marrow transplant to assist your body in producing healthy red blood cells.

Sickle Cell Anemia

This is a form of anemia that many people are born with. It is a chronic condition that most people tend to live with their entire lives. Regular treatment options include oxygen therapy, oral and intravenous fluids, blood transfusions, antibiotics, and supplements.

In more serious cases of sickle cell anemia, you might need a specific type of cancer drug called hydroxyurea to treat/manage the condition.

Take Your Health Into Your Own Hands

If you think you might have anemia, it’s always best to visit your doctor for anemia testing, rather than relying on a self-diagnosis. This way, you can truly understand the underlying cause of your symptoms and learn how to manage your health the right way.

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