What is Anemia?

Anemia occurs when a patient’s body has an insufficient number of red blood cells, which are supposed to provide the body with oxygen. Usually in problem resides in production of red blood cells in the patient’s bone marrow. There are many different types of anemia, with the most common being iron deficiency. Anemia can usually be diagnosed after simple blood tests.

In gastroenterology, anemia is often the cause for ordering an examination of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. If the anemia is sudden or has not been a chronic issue, then anemia could be a sign that the patient is experiencing internal bleeding and simply losing healthy red blood cells that way. Internal bleeding of the GI tract can be detected after the patient has discovered blood in the stool and can be caused by several chronic GI diseases, such as ulcerative colitis (a type of inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation of tissue lining the bowel) and colorectal cancers.

What are the Symptoms of Anemia?

The most common symptom of anemia is the feeling of lightheadedness when a patient stands up or exerts him- or herself physically. The general lack of oxygen in the body also causes fatigue, headaches and shortness of breath. The patient may also experience chest pain. For gastroenterology patients, anemia caused by ulcers, polyps or pouches along the GI tract can also trigger an onset of GI symptoms, including but not limited to constipation and bloody (sometimes seen as dark black, tarry and malodorous) stool. Depending on the source of bleeding inside your GI tract, the symptoms displayed and the appropriate treatment varies.

What Kinds of Anemia Treatment are Available?

Anemia treatment depends greatly on what is causing your specific case of anemia. Sometimes, blood transfusions, supplementary vitamins and minerals and certain medications can help replenish your body’s supply of red blood cells. However, other circumstances might call for more serious treatment, such as in the case that your GI doctor finds an ulcer or polyp in your colon, which is causing you to bleed and thereby lose precious red blood cells. Surgery might be necessary to remove bleeding growths and to patch up tears or other sources of bleeding in the GI tract. Since severe blood loss can lead to heart attacks and death, it’s very important to keep monitoring your case if you are indeed diagnosed.


Reviewed 12/29/2011 by David M. Nolan, M.D.
Diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine, 2011
Currently a Fellow of Gastroenterology, at UCI 2011-2014