Consumer Reports: Surprise causes of anemia

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Anemia is a common condition that often can be overlooked. The symptoms may be vague: fatigue and lightheadedness or even looking extremely pale all caused by too few red blood cells in the body.

Consumer Reports says anemia can be dangerous if left untreated. ABC 7 News anchor, Ama Daetz, reports on how to find out if you have anemia, and what to do to about it.

Yackie Rodriguez says as a busy mom, she often ignores feeling fatigued. But she became very concerned about her health after a frightening moment while she was driving. "I felt really dizzy, lightheaded. I couldn't really see the road too well," she said.

Rodriguez went to the doctor, and a blood test showed she was anemic. That means she didn't have enough red blood cells, which are essential for carrying energy-boosting oxygen throughout the body.

"The most common cause of anemia is a low blood iron level due to loss of blood," said Dr. Marvin Lipman, Consumer Reports Medical Advisor. "Studies show that as many as one-in-seven pre-menopausal women have heavy or irregular periods and that can lead to anemia."

RELATED: 15 Signs You May Have an Iron Deficiency

Another cause of iron deficiency anemia can be gastrointestinal bleeding, which can be triggered by something as simple as taking too much aspirin or ibuprofen over time.
Anemia caused by internal bleeding can also alert your doctor to check for other underlying conditions like hemorrhoids or more serious ones like ulcers, polyps, and even cancer.
Treatment of the anemia will depend on how severe it is. "If the iron deficiency is very mild, iron rich foods can sometimes do the trick," said Dr. Lipman.

Spinach, kale, legumes like lentils and beans, as well as beef, chicken, and fish, can boost the iron in your blood. But sometimes stronger measures are needed.

Iron supplements taken orally can also be helpful but only if recommended by your doctor. If the anemia is severe, a blood transfusion may be necessary.

Consumer Reports says definitely do not take iron supplements on your own. There can be harmful side effects and iron can also interfere with other medications you may already be taking.
If your doctor prescribes an iron supplement, be sure to keep the bottle well out of reach of children.

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