What is the Connection Between Anemia and Fatigue?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Anemia and fatigue are related in some ways because fatigue, or chronic tiredness and low energy, is a fairly common symptom of most forms of anemia. Simply put, the lower red blood cell count that accompanies anemia means less oxygen and nutrition for cells and a body that tires quickly. On the other hand, these two conditions aren’t always related, because other things like sleep disorders or bipolar and unipolar depression can cause fatigue.

Anemia and fatigue can be exhausting for an individual.
Anemia and fatigue can be exhausting for an individual.

Oxygen is one of the basic molecules of life; human bodies can’t live without it. When we breathe it in, it encounters red blood cells that are returning to the lungs from the body. These pick up oxygen molecules and journey through the body, keeping every part of it alive and thriving by providing oxygen for each cell. In the absence of oxygen for any meaningful period of time, tissue death begins. For example, a blood clot in the brain, or stroke, can quickly impair brain function, which may or may not recover with passage of the clot. It only takes a few seconds for tissue damage of this type to begin.

Anemia and fatigue do not always have a direct relationship.
Anemia and fatigue do not always have a direct relationship.

Anemia and fatigue may result when people have a lower than normal red blood cell count. This means there are fewer blood cells carrying oxygen to all the different parts of the body. Although in most cases, all parts continue to get some oxygen, the situation is comparable to chronic malnutrition. No part of the body is getting enough oxygen to work effortlessly.

Although anemia and fatigue may not be fatal in most cases, it can be exhausting. Even slight exertion may feel tremendously difficult. If the anemic situation worsens and red blood cell counts decline further, fatigue could progress and life could be difficult to sustain. Discovering the cause of the condition and treating it, when possible, can reverse the fatigue before this more serious point is reached.

A simple example of this is when a woman has an adverse reaction to an intrauterine device (IUD). For some women, these may cause excessive bleeding that could occur most of the month, instead of just during the menstrual period. Chronic bleeding of this sort may create mild anemia and fatigue. To address the problem, the IUD could be removed or other measures like taking iron might be attempted to raise hemoglobin levels. As hemoglobin rises, so should energy.

Anemia and fatigue don't always have a direct relationship. Impaired breathing, depressive illnesses, poor nutrition, or various other things may make people feel tired beyond what is normal. In other words, anemia shouldn’t be assumed if fatigue exists. People should see a physician if they’re encountering this symptom for a full physical evaluation prior to diagnosis. A simple blood test can also help rule in anemia if it’s suspected.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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