Anemia, also spelled anaemia, is usually defined as a decrease in the total amount of red blood cells (RBCs) or hemoglobin in the blood. It can also be defined as a lowered ability of the blood to carry oxygen. When anemia comes on slowly, the symptoms are often vague and may include feeling tired, weakness, shortness of breath or a poor ability to exercise. Anemia that comes on quickly often has greater symptoms, which may include confusion, feeling like one is going to pass out, loss of consciousness, or increased thirst. Anemia must be significant before a person becomes noticeably pale. Additional symptoms may occur depending on the underlying cause.
The three main types of anemia are due to blood loss, decreased red blood cell production, and increased red blood cell breakdown. Causes of blood loss include trauma and gastrointestinal bleeding, among others. Causes of decreased production include iron deficiency, a lack of vitamin B12, thalassemia, and a number of neoplasms of the bone marrow. Causes of increased breakdown include a number of genetic conditions such as sickle cell anemia, infections like malaria, and certain autoimmune diseases. It can also be classified based on the size of red blood cells and amount of hemoglobin in each cell. If the cells are small, it is microcytic anemia. If they are large, it is macrocytic anemia while if they are normal sized, it is normocytic anemia. Diagnosis in men is based on a hemoglobin of less than 130 to 140 g/L (13 to 14 g/dL), while in women, it must be less than 120 to 130 g/L (12 to 13 g/dL). Further testing is then required to determine the cause.