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10 Silent Symptoms of Anemia You Shouldn’t Ignore

If you’re constantly feeling run-down, it might be time to boost your intake of iron and vitamin B12.

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What is anemia?

Anemia is defined as the condition of not having enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body, and there are many, many forms of it. There are also many types of anemia symptoms. Some people, like those suffering from conditions like sickle cell anemia or thalassemia, are anemic from birth; their bodies genetically inherit difficulty producing red blood cells or specific parts of red blood cells. But the greatest portion of those suffering from anemia become anemic over time through not consuming enough iron or vitamin B12, both of which, along with folate, are necessary for the production of healthy red blood cells. Read on for the anemia symptoms you need to know about.

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You’re short of breath or dizzy often

Without enough iron or vitamin B12, the body cannot produce enough of a specific type of protein called hemoglobin, which is crucial to the functioning of red blood cells. Hemoglobin, which is so rich with iron that it gives blood its red colour, allows oxygen to bond to the cells so the cells can carry it in the bloodstream throughout the body. When there isn’t enough iron or vitamin B12 to create adequate amounts of hemoglobin, some parts of the body will not receive the oxygen they need. The result: Some anemia symptoms are that you’re out of breath easily and sometimes getting so little oxygen to your head that you feel dizzy or lightheaded.

Find out more medical reasons you’re feeling dizzy.

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You’re just so darn tired

University of Chicago Associate Professor of Medicine Andrew Artz, MD, says one of the most common (and prominent) anemia symptoms is a general feeling of exhaustion. “Fatigue is the predominant symptom,” Dr. Artz says. “The challenge of the symptom of fatigue is that every person has a different experience of how they notice it. Some will simply feel more tired; others will feel it with activity.” The tiredness is caused by the same process that leads to shortness of breath and dizziness: Without enough iron or vitamin B12, there’s not enough hemoglobin, and without enough hemoglobin, there’s not enough oxygen to fuel the body.

Tired all the time? Here’s how to tell whether your fatigue is something more serious.

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Anemia symptoms - man inspecting face in mirrorPhoto: Shutterstock

Your skin is looking more pale

If you don’t have the healthy red blood cells to fuel your organs with oxygen, you can’t expect your largest organ (your skin) to look healthy. Without iron or vitamin B12, there might not be enough blood supply to the skin, resulting in a paler, and even sallow-looking, exterior, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Want to keep your skin soft, supple and hydrated? Consider adding these complexion-boosting foods to your grocery list.

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You feel pain in your chest

When there are fewer healthy red blood cells circulating, the heart has to work even harder to move them through the body. As a result, the heart beats faster than normal and you may start to feel the strain as chest pain. This is not a problem to dismiss, especially if you have other heart problems. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute reports that when your heart has to work harder, it can lead to irregular heartbeats, a heart murmur, an enlarged heart, or even heart failure.

These are the chest pains you might mistake for a heart attack.

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You’re pregnant or losing a lot of blood

Maybe you’re consuming what would normally be an adequate amount of iron, but you’re anemic because you’re losing blood for a different reason. Pregnant women are especially susceptible to anemia because the body must produce much more blood than normal to support the growth and development of a baby, and without enough iron, vitamin B12, or folate, there are fewer healthy red blood cells that can be made. However, women who aren’t pregnant, men, and even children who experience gastrointestinal conditions, such as ulcers, hemorrhoids, inflammation of the stomach, and cancer, can also have increased risk of anemia if their health conditions cause chronic bleeding.

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You eat a vegan diet

Because iron is in soy beans, dark green leafy vegetables, and tofu in addition to lean red meat, vegans and vegetarians can still consume the amount of iron their body needs. However, Chicago-based dietitian Allegra Burton says it’s impossible to get vitamin B12 from plant sources. As a result, the only way for those with vegan diets to consume an adequate amount of vitamin B12 is to regularly take a supplement, something she recommends all vegans do.

Find out how to keep a special diet balanced.

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You’re craving ice cubes and other strange snacks

Perhaps one of the most unusual symptoms of anemia, in particular, is pica, or the tendency to crave non-nutritional items like ice cubes, baking soda, clay, or even pencils or dried paint. Even more interesting is that doctors and researchers still don’t know why patients crave chewing or eating such unusual food substances. However, Dr. Artz says it’s a very common symptom of iron-deficiency anemia.

Learn more strange symptoms that can signal a serious disease.

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Your hands and feet are cold

If you notice your extremities feeling chillier than normal, this could be a sign of iron deficiency or anemia. The reason why is because when you’re anemic, you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells in your body. Iron helps these blood cells deliver heat and nutrients to the rest of your cells, so when you have a deficiency, you’re more prone to feeling cold.

Discover more surprising diseases your hands might predict.

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You’re getting an abnormal amount of headaches

Most of us get headaches every once in a while, from stress, lack of sleep, illness, and a slew of other reasons. But if you find yourself getting more headaches than what’s normal for you, it may be time to check your iron levels. The headaches can range from low-grade to migraine, too, so don’t brush it off even if you’re only feeling mild pain. Low levels of iron could mean that not enough oxygen is reaching the brain.

Check out the surprising things that could be triggering your headaches.

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You have an irregular heartbeat/heart palpitations

Heart palpitations, or noticeable heartbeats, are another sign of iron-deficiency anemia. According to Healthline, anemic people have low levels of hemoglobin, which is the protein in red blood cells that helps transport oxygen to the rest of your body. This means that without enough hemoglobin, the heart has to work harder to carry oxygen. This is what leads to the feeling that your heart is beating irregularly or quickly.

These are the heart attack symptoms that are most frequently misdiagnosed.

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So what do you do if you’re anemic?

If you’re experiencing some of these anemia symptoms and think that you might be anemic, it’s important to consult a doctor for an evaluation to discern exactly which type of anemia you have, and what you should do to cure it. Dr. Artz warns against purchasing any over-the-counter anemia combatant, because there is not a catch-all cure for all forms of anemia. The key is understanding the cause and the deficiency, so you can work with your doctor or a dietitian to remedy your diet.

Now that you know the anemia symptoms to watch out for, learn about the silent signs you might have diabetes.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest