Anemia is a condition where there are not enough healthy red blood cells to move sufficient oxygen throughout your body. Also known as "low hemoglobin," anemia can make you feel severely weak and tired.
There are several different types of anemia, all caused for different reasons.
Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer of the plasma cells. About 65% of myeloma patients have anemia at diagnosis. In anemia caused by multiple myeloma, an overgrowth of the myeloma plasma cells can crowd out normal red blood cells. When the body is not receiving enough oxygen, it can cause fatigue, weakness, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, leg swelling, headache and shortness of breath. Anemia may be the first sign of multiple myeloma.
Anemia can also be caused by multiple myeloma therapy including immunomodulators such as Revlimid and Pomalyst, the proteasome inhibitor Kyprolis and anti-CD38 monoclonal antibodies.
Treating the multiple myeloma will typically reduce or eliminate the anemia because it clears out the excess myeloma plasma cells to return the bone marrow and blood to normal ratios of red vs. white blood cells.
In aplastic anemia, your body stops producing new red blood cells. This causes fatigue and increases the likelihood of infectiosn and uncontrolled bleeding. It can be mild or severe, happen at any age, and can occur slowly or happen suddenly. Treatment may include blood transfusions or a bone marrow transplant.
Iron deficiency anemia is caused by inadequate iron levels. Without enough iron, your body can't produce enough hemoglobin, or the substance in red blood cells that helps them carry oxygen through the body. Iron deficiency anema can cause shortness of breath and fatigue. It can typically be corrected with iron supplements.
Sickle cell anemia is a genetic disorder in the sickle cell disease family. It changes the shape of red blood cells to a crescent shape instead of a round shaped cell. These sickle cells can become stiff and sticky which can block blood flow. There is no cure, but treatments can relieve pain and address disease complications.
Thalassemia is a genetic condition that lowers your hemoglobin levels. Mild thalassemia may not require treatment, but more severe types may require blood transfusions. A healthy diet and regular exercise is helpful for people with this condition.
Vitamin deficiency anemia is caused by lowered amounts of B-12 and folate. This can happen if you don't eat enough foods with these vitamins or if your body struggles to absorve these vitamins. Without these vitamins, the body makes larger red blood cells that have a reduced ability to carry oxygen. Vitamin supplmeents can correct this condition.
If you have frequent fatigue or weakness, please talk to your doctor who can run blood tests to determine the underlying cause of the anemia.
about the author
Myeloma survivor, patient advocate, wife, mom of 6. Believer that patients can help accelerate a cure by weighing in and participating in clinical research. Founder of Myeloma Crowd by HealthTree and the HealthTree Foundation.