Anemia in Pregnancy

Institutes & Services > Patient Blood Management and Utilization


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What is Anemia?

Anemia is a condition in which you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your tissues.  Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin which is a protein in your red blood cells.  While you are pregnant, your body makes more blood to support you as your body changes and helps your baby make his or her own blood supply.  The need for iron doubles when you are pregnant.  Having anemia may make you feel tired and weak and can affect your baby.

What Causes Anemia During Pregnancy?

The two most common causes of anemia in pregnancy are iron deficiency and bleeding.  Your body needs more iron during pregnancy, and when your body doesn’t have enough iron or can’t keep up with the increased need for iron, you and your baby can be affected.  There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause.  Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can range from mild to severe. This can happen if:

  • Your body doesn’t make enough red blood cells
  • Bleeding causes you to lose red blood cells more quickly than they can be replaced
  • Your body destroys red blood cells

What Increases my Risk for Developing Anemia While I am Pregnant?

  • If you are pregnant with more than one baby
  • Morning sickness and frequent vomiting
  • Have closely spaced pregnancies
  • You aren’t able to consume enough iron or vitamins in your diet
  • If you had a heavy menstrual flow prior to becoming pregnant
  • Intestinal disorders that prevent your body from absorbing iron and vitamins
  • Family history or inherited anemia like sickle cell
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals or drugs
  • Infections
  • Alcoholism
  • Chronic conditions that may affect your kidney and liver function.

How is Anemia Diagnosed?

Anemia is diagnosed with a simple blood test. It is called a complete blood count. Your doctor may order extra blood tests depending on the blood count to determine the cause of anemia. Women are considered anemic if their hemoglobin is less than 12.

Symptoms of Anemia

Anemia symptoms vary depending on the cause of your anemia, and you may not experience any symptoms at all, but may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Pale skin
  • A fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Headache
  • Craving ice may be a sign of iron deficiency

Initially, anemia can be so mild it goes unnoticed, but symptoms increase as anemia worsens.

Treatment of Anemia in Pregnancy:

  • Prenatal vitamins
  • Iron infusions for patients that can’t tolerate taking iron pills or don’t absorb iron well
  • Blood transfusions in cases of severe anemia
  • Eating a diet rich in iron
  • Depends on the cause of anemia

Preparing for Your Visit:

  1. Take a list of all medications and supplements you take to your appointment
  2. Make a list of any major stresses you are experiencing or recent life changes
  3. Take a list of all symptoms you are experiencing
  4. Take a list of all questions you have for the doctor

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