How Is Anemia Diagnosed?

Anemia can be detected by a simple blood test. Most causes can be diagnosed by analysis of blood samples and by examination of the blood cells under a microscope.

A complete blood count test is always performed. The red blood cells and their iron-bearing protein, hemoglobin, are measured. The percentage of red blood cells in the blood is called a hematocrit.

A blood smear will determine the size, shape, and color of the blood cells. The shape of the red blood cells can be distorted in many blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia.

Iron deficiency anemia is suspected when the red cells are low in number and unusually small. Measuring the amount of iron and its associated proteins in the blood can confirm this diagnosis.

Those with vitamin deficiency anemias have larger-than-normal red blood cells.

In some cases, a bone marrow biopsy may be necessary to confirm a diagnosis. A sample of bone marrow is removed from the back of the pelvic bone or from the breastbone. This sample allows physicians to determine the overall activity of the marrow and whether abnormal cells, such as cancer cells, are interfering with its function.

Other tests that may be needed include chemical examination of the stool for traces of blood, x-rays of the bowel to detect the presence of internal bleeding and examination of the small bowel lining to access its ability to absorb food normally.

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