Your doctor will diagnose anemia based on your medical and family histories, a physical exam, and results from tests and procedures.
Because anemia doesn’t always cause symptoms, your doctor may find out you have it while checking for another condition.
Medical and Family Histories
Your doctor may ask whether you have any of the common signs or symptoms of anemia. He or she may ask whether you’ve had an illness or condition that could cause anemia.
Your doctor also may ask about the medicines you take, your diet, and whether you have family members who have anemia or a history of it.
Your doctor will do a physical exam to find out how severe your anemia is and to check for possible causes. He or she may:
Your doctor also may do a pelvic or rectal exam to check for common sources of blood loss.
Diagnostic Tests and Procedures
Your doctor may order various tests or procedures to find out what type of anemia you have and how severe it is.
Complete Blood Count
Often, the first test used to diagnose anemia is a complete blood count (CBC). The CBC measures many different parts of your blood.
This test checks your hemoglobin and hematocrit (hee-MAT-oh-crit) levels. Hemoglobin is the iron-rich protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to the body. Hematocrit is a measure of how much space red blood cells take up in your blood. A low level of hemoglobin or hematocrit is a sign of anemia.
The normal range of these levels may be lower in certain racial and ethnic populations. Your doctor can explain your test results to you.
The CBC also checks the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets in your blood. Abnormal results may be a sign of anemia, a blood disorder, an infection, or another condition.
Finally, the CBC looks at mean corpuscular (kor-PUS-kyu-lar) volume (MCV). MCV is a measure of the average size of your red blood cells and a clue as to the cause of your anemia. In iron-deficiency anemia, for example, red blood cells usually are smaller than normal.
Other Tests and Procedures
If the CBC results show that you have anemia, you may need other tests such as:
Because anemia has many causes, you also may be tested for conditions such as kidney failure, lead poisoning (in children), and vitamin deficiencies (lack of vitamins, such as B12 and folic acid).
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