Anemia’s Effect on Your Heart Health

anemia and your heart

[© Skypixel | Dreamstime.com] Some common anemia symptoms include lack of color in the skin, increased heart rate, fatigue, headaches, and irregular or delayed menstruation. When anemia is left untreated or is severe, it can affect your whole body—especially your heart.

Many people suffer from anemia but do not realize how it can affect your heart’s function. Anemia can cause your heart to work harder to pump blood and result in a rapid or irregular heartbeat.

What is Anemia?
Anemia is a common blood disorder that occurs when there are fewer red blood cells than normal, or there is a low concentration of hemoglobin in the blood. “Anemia stems from a variety of conditions,” says Karl Kasamon, M.D., a hematologist on staff at Howard County General Hospital, “but the most common cause is iron deficiency.” Common symptoms include lack of color in the skin, eyes and lips, increased heart rate, fatigue, breathlessness, irritability, headaches, irregular or delayed menstruation and jaundice.

“Those at the highest risk for anemia are menstruating females and generally elderly patients who have gastrointestinal related blood loss or bleeding,” says Dr. Kasamon. When anemia is left untreated or is severe, it can affect your whole body—especially your heart.

“The connection between anemia and heart complications is clear,” says Dr. Kasamon. “Red blood cells carry oxygen from lungs to tissues. When your red blood cells are low (you are anemic), your heart has to pump and carry blood cells much faster to deliver the same amount of oxygen. This strains the heart to contract faster and more intensely than normal.”

If you already have a heart condition, the condition can worsen if you develop anemia. Other factors, such as demographics, can determine the risk of anemia linking to heart conditions. “For example, 20 year olds with severe anemia rarely have dangerous complications, whereas older adults are at a much higher risk even if they are just mildly anemic,” says Dr. Kasamon.

Getting Treatment
Anemia is a reversible disorder. To optimize heart health, seek treatment for anemia to correct the red-blood-cell level back to normal, which will take strain off and positively affect your heart. Treatment varies depending on the cause of anemia and can include iron supplements, changes in diet, vitamins, prescription medication, blood transfusions or bone marrow transplant.

Dr. Kasamon also encourages those with anemia symptoms to be screened by a physician. “Patients often assume their anemia is caused by iron deficiency and self-medicate with iron. In some cases, this can cause iron overload and ironically lead to a variety of complications, including heart failure.”

Karl Kasamon, M.D., is a hematologist with Chesapeake Oncology-Hematology Associates in Columbia.