There are many different types of anemia with many different causes. A handful of symptoms are shared by nearly all types of anemia, whether you have iron deficiency anemia or Fanconi anemia.
And each type of anemia shares a basic end effect: Your body does not have enough oxygen-bearing red blood cells for its needs.
How severe or frequent your symptoms are relates to how severe your anemia is. People who have mild anemia, from a mild iron deficiency, for instance, may not have any symptoms at all, while people with severe anemia can have much more noticeable and longer lasting symptoms.
Anemia symptoms include:
- Fatigue. This is by far the most common anemia symptom. You may feel very tired or weak and unable to summon the energy for most daily activities.
- Dizziness. Dizziness is most likely to occur when you stand up from a sitting or resting position.
- Shortness of breath
- Cold skin, especially the hands and feet
- Paleness. Your gums and the base of your nails may be especially pale.
- Chest pain. Without enough oxygen-rich red blood cells, your heart has to work much harder to keep your body supplied with the nutrients it requires. You may feel pain and tightness in your chest when your heart muscle is not getting the oxygen it needs.
- Arrhythmia. Also known as dysrhythmia or an abnormal heart rhythm, an uneven or altered rate or pattern of heartbeats can also result from your heart working harder to circulate blood.
If the condition is severe enough, these symptoms are found to some degree in every type of anemia.
Differentiating Anemia Symptoms
There are many different types of anemia, some with symptoms that set them apart:
- Aplastic anemia. Nausea and skin rashes are known signs of this type of anemia, which occurs when the bone marrow stops making enough red blood cells.
- Fanconi anemia. This is a rare inherited disorder that prevents your bone marrow from making all three needed types of blood cells and results in delayed development in a multitude of areas, from learning abilities to physical growth.
- Folic acid deficiency anemia. Not having enough folic acid — one of the B vitamins, also known as folate — in your diet may lead to this type of anemia. Symptoms unique to this anemia include irritability, diarrhea, and a smooth tongue.
- Hemolytic anemia. Jaundice, leg ulcers, and abdominal pain are hallmarks of this type of anemia, in which red blood cells are prematurely destroyed within the body. The excess hemoglobin released by this destructive process causes many of the symptoms.
- Iron deficiency anemia. This type of anemia is due to a lack of iron in your diet or chronic blood loss. Iron deficiency anemia can be identified through symptoms that include unusual cravings (such as ice or dirt), brittle nails, a swollen or sore tongue, tiny cracks on the sides of your mouth, and frequent infections.
- Pernicious anemia. This type of anemia is caused by a lack of vitamin B12. Not having enough vitamin B12, or being unable to absorb it, can lead to symptoms such as nerve damage, confusion, dementia, memory loss, depression, nausea, heartburn, weight loss, and a smooth, beefy red tongue.
- Sickle cell anemia. Sudden pain throughout the body is a hallmark of this type of anemia, which occurs because the body makes red blood cells shaped like sickles (or a “C” shape) instead of smooth disc shapes. These abnormally shaped cells can clump together, blocking blood flow in many organs and causing painful sickle cell crises. Swelling in the hands and feet and damage to the spleen are also symptoms of this type of anemia.
Symptoms of anemia cover a wide range, depending on the cause of the anemia and the severity of the condition. However, there are a few symptoms, especially tiredness, that occur with all types of anemia. If you suspect you have anemia, talk to your doctor about your options.