Symptoms of anaemia


Mild to moderate anaemia may cause very mild symptoms or none at all, and may be an incidental finding when routine blood testing is done.

The most common symptom of anaemia is fatigue.

Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Coldness in the hands and feet
  • Pale skin
  • Chest pain
  • Arrhythmias (irregular heart beat)
  • In haemolytic anaemia: yellow discolouration of the whites of the eyes and skin (jaundice) and dark urine may occur.
  • In iron deficiency, the tongue may become smooth, shiny and inflamed (glossitis). Angular stomatitis (erosion, tenderness and swelling at the corners of the mouth) may also occur. Some people also suffer from pica (a craving for non-food items such as starch, dirt and clay) or pagophagia (a craving for ice). The symptoms of the underlying cause of the iron deficiency may be present such as heavy menstrual bleeding or abdominal pain and dark, tarry stools due to peptic ulceration.

In infants and children, symptoms of anaemia include:

  • Pale skin
  • Being cranky, upset or irritable
  • Poor growth and development
  • Recurrent infections
  • In haemolytic anaemias: abdominal swelling; yellow discolouration of the whites of the eyes and skin (jaundice); and dark urine may occur
  • In thalassaemia: widening of the bones of the skull, jaw and other bony abnormalities 

Symptoms of the complications due to the underlying cause may also be present. 

Reviewed by Cape Town-based general practitioner, Dr Dalia Hack. October 2018.

Read more:

- Risk factors for anaemia

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