Have you ever been told that an older relative has anemia?
Or perhaps you noticed the red blood cell count flagged as “low” in the bloodwork report? Or noticed “low hemoglobin” in a doctor’s report?
Anemia means having a red blood cell count that is lower than normal, and it’s very common in older adults. About 10% of independently living people over age 65 have anemia. And anemia becomes even more common as people get older.
But many older adults and families hardly understand anemia.
This isn’t surprising: anemia is associated with a dizzying array of underlying health conditions, and can represent anything from a life-threatening emergency to a mild chronic problem that barely makes the primary care doctor blink.
Still, it worries me that older adults and families don’t know more about anemia. If you or your relative has this condition, it’s important to understand what’s going on and what the follow-up plan is. (I’ve so often discovered that a patient didn’t know he or she had had anemia!) Misunderstanding anemia can also lead to unnecessary worrying, or perhaps even inappropriate treatment with iron supplements.
And since anemia is often caused by some other problem in the body, not understanding anemia often means that people don’t understand something else that is important regarding their health.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a doctor to have a decent understanding of the basics of anemia.
This post will help you understand:
- How anemia is detected and diagnosed in aging adults.
- Symptoms of anemia.
- The most common causes of anemia, and tests often used to check for them.
- What to ask the doctor.
- How to get better follow-up, if you or your relative is diagnosed with anemia.