Because anemia may be the first symptom of a serious illness, determining its cause is very important. This may be difficult, particularly in the elderly, malnourished, or people with chronic diseases. However, correct diagnosis of anemia is important as it allows doctors to identify what is troubling you and why. Diagnosis also provides guidance for the best course of treatment. Since anemia and its symptoms may mimic other conditions, your doctor will want to 'rule in' or 'rule out' other conditions to accurately pin point the cause and treat anemia as appropriate.
The first step in diagnosing anemia is a physical examination to determine if you are indeed experiencing symptoms of anemia and/or associated complications. Your primary doctor may also ask you some of the following questions to determine if you have any conditions that may be causing your anemia:
A doctor can determine if you are anemic by performing a routine blood test called a complete blood count (CBC) test, which provides levels for both hemoglobin and hematocrit (the percentage of red blood cells in a blood sample) to assess anemia. The normal value or range for these indicators varies with both gender and age and is the main diagnostic tool for identifying anemia.
Once a diagnosis of anemia has been confirmed, more tests are often required to determine the cause of the anemia and the best course of treatment. After diagnosis, anemia is further categorized as mild, moderate or severe based on hemoglobin levels related to a normal range or value. Your doctor may ask you to follow up with a specialist like an oncologist (cancer or hematology specialist) or a GI specialist (gastroenterologist).
If the CBC results show that you have anemia, you may need other tests to determine the cause, severity and appropriate treatment for anemia.
Anti-globulin test- this test detects proteins called immune-globulins that cause an inflammatory reaction in human body.
Fecal occult blood test - if your doctor suspects a source of bleeding within your body, several tests may be used to discover the source of the bleeding. This test checks the stool for signs of blood and can detect even small amounts of blood. This simple, non-invasive test is done by placing a small sample of stool on a chemically treated card. Then a chemical solution is put on top of the sample. If the card turns blue, there is blood in the sample.
Hemoglobin electrophoresis - this test looks at the different types of hemoglobin in your blood andcan help diagnose the type of anemia you have.
Iron levels - this tests for the level of iron in your blood and body and include serum iron and serum ferritin tests. Transferrin level and total iron-binding capacity also test iron levels.
Reticulocyte count - this test measures the number of young red blood cells in your blood and shows whether your bone marrow is making red blood cells at the correct rate.
Vitamin deficiencies - your doctor may check the amount of folate, vitamin B-12 and vitamin C in your blood to determine if your anemia is due to a vitamin deficiency. If blood tests indicate problems, additional examinations may be requested such as gastroscopy and/or biopsy to identify the cause of a vitamin B-12 deficiency.
Once laboratory values have been confirmed and accepted by your doctor and the cause of your anemia has been determined, you doctor may proceed with developing the appropriate treatment plan to optimally eliminate or minimize an anemic status. To learn more about how doctors treat anemia, keep reading. Our next section of Anemia Treatment covers treatment options such as a special anemia diet here.