Anemia: what is it and what are the symptoms?

Written by

Lauren Dobischok
16 June, 2022

Medically checked article All HOMED-IQ content is reviewed by medical specialists

Have you been feeling more tired, less productive than usual, and pale when you look at yourself in the mirror? Oftentimes, this is blamed on poor sleep or a busy work week. However, many people are not aware that these can be symptoms of anemia. But what exactly is anemia, how does it develop, and why is it harmful to our health?

What is anemia?

Anemia is a lack of hemoglobin, the red blood pigment that carries oxygen, or a shortage of healthy red blood cells (RBCs). Insufficient hemoglobin/red blood cells means your body is unable to carry sufficient oxygen to your body’s organs and tissues. This can lead to symptoms which can vary in severity between individuals.

While one might think that there is a link between red blood cell count and hemoglobin levels, there is no correlation. Thus, a reduction in hemoglobin can be present even though the number of RBCs is still normal or elevated.

At what level is anemia dangerous?

The severity of anemia is primarily measured by hemoglobin (Hb) level. In principle, an Hb level below 6.5 g/dL is considered life-threatening and requires immediate treatment. But how do you find out your hemoglobin level or know if you have anemia in the first place?

Want to know more about hemoglobin? Check out our article “All About Hemoglobin”!

Causes of anemia

Anemia comes in different forms and has various causes. There is usually a balance between RBC breakdown and new RBC formation. With anemia, not enough RBCs are produced and/or too many are destroyed. This can occur for different reasons, most commonly iron or vitamin deficiencies. Therefore, a vitamin deficiency test is advisable in order to detect a deficiency at an early stage. Furthermore, women are far more likely to suffer from anemia than men due to blood loss that occurs during menstruation.

Another cause of anemia is genetic disorders, which can lead to inherited (congenital) anemia. In addition to nutritional factors, age can also play a role in anemia acquired over the course of life.

Anemia symptoms

As already mentioned, anemia can manifest itself in a number of ways. The symptoms and their intensity vary between individuals. The most common symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Decreased physical (and mental) performance
  • Pale skin
  • Shortness of breath with slight exertion
  • Dizziness
  • Smooth, red tongue (also known as lacquer tongue)

Anemia treatment

Treatment for Anemia depends on its cause. If anemia is due to a vitamin or iron deficiency, it can usually be treated quickly and easily with changes in diet or iron supplements. However, if other factors such as inherited genetic conditions are the cause of the anemia, you should consult your family doctor for advice on treatment.

Anemia in old age

Anemia should be avoided at any age due to its consequences for health. However, anemia is especially a problem during old age. Because anemia affects both physical and mental fitness, anemic seniors face multiple health risks. While decreased physical fitness increases the risk of falling, a lack of oxygen supply to the body can impact mental fitness and has been linked to an increased risk of dementia.

What happens if anemia is not treated?

As already mentioned, anemia causes the body or organs to not be supplied with sufficient oxygen. To compensate for this deficiency, heartbeat and breathing rate increases. The body can cope with anemia for a certain period of time, but in the long term it leads to heart muscle weakness due to the increased strain. If anemia is not treated in the long term, anemia can aggravate other pulmonary or heart conditions that lead to death. Therefore, low Hb levels should not be taken lightly.


Pharmacy magazine. (2016, October 27). anemia. Retrieved on June 1, 2022, from

Dr med Weigl [DoktorWeigl]. (2020, February 5). Anemia: Why Can We All Get Anemia? Causes, Symptoms & Treatment [Video]. YouTube.

Ehrlichsmann, J.E. (2021, February 26). Hemoglobin (Hb value): meaning & normal values. practicaldoctor. Retrieved on June 1, 2022, from Analysis/Blood Values/haemoglobin-hb-wert/

Life energy iron. (2022, March 3). IRON DEFICIENCY Consequences ► Effects on our body. Retrieved on June 1, 2022, from Mangel/fallen/

Rutkowski, H. & Schrör, S. (2018, November 13). Anemia. NetDoctor. Retrieved on June 1, 2022, from

Zumbühl, D. (2012, June 12). Iron deficiency in old age with fatal consequences. Consultation room by MediScope. Retrieved on June 1, 2022, from Mangel/Aktuell/Eisen Mangel_im_Alter_mit_fatalen_Folgen.html

About the author

Lauren Dobischok

Lauren is a health scientist and science communicator currently living in the Netherlands. Originally from Canada, she completed a Research Master’s in Health Sciences at the Netherlands Institute of Health Sciences at Erasmus University Rotterdam (NIHES) with a specialisation in epidemiology. Prior to her master’s degree, she completed a Bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University. With a background in public health, her goal is to create accurate scientific content that is easy to understand and empowers people to make informed decisions. Within Homed-IQ, Lauren works as a Product Developer and Content Lead, working closely with physicians and scientists on medical devices for Homed-IQ’s new products and written communications.