Anemia and Diabetes

Crash Course on Blood

Blood plays an extremely important role in keeping our bodies running smoothly. It contains three types of blood cells: red, white, and platelets. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body and remove waste; white blood cells fight infections; and platelets form clots to stop bleeding. On average, the adult body contains 14 to 18 pints of blood and blood makes up approximately 7 percent of body weight. Blood carries out functions vital for our survival, but it can become compromised like any other part of the body.

What is Anemia?

Anemia is a condition where the body produces too few red blood cells. When there are not enough red blood cells, not enough oxygen reaches the body's tissues, causing the organs, including the heart, to become strained. Anemia is the most common blood condition in the United States, affecting about 3.5 million Americans, though millions more may have it and be unaware. Approximately, one in four people with diabetes will experience this blood condition.


What causes a low level of red blood cells? One common reason is iron deficiency. Iron produces the protein hemoglobin, which exists in red blood cells and transports oxygen. A shortage of iron may be caused by blood loss, a diet lacking in iron, inability of the body to properly absorb iron, or an increased need for iron. Those who require the most iron, and are thus at a greater risk for iron deficiency anemia, are women who are menstruating, pregnant, or breastfeeding, as well as children who are undergoing a growth spurt.

Kidney disease is another leading cause of anemia. The kidneys produce erythropoietin, a hormone that prompts the bones to produce red blood cells. Because of the risk of diabetes-related kidney disease, people with diabetes are more likely to develop anemia. Anemia development becomes very likely once one reaches Stage 3 of chronic kidney disease.

Other potential causes of anemia include deficiencies in folic acid or vitamin B12, autoimmune diseases such as celiac sprue, and genetic conditions such as sickle cell disease.


If you have a mild case of anemia, you may not experience symptoms. The symptoms of anemia include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Headaches
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Hair loss
  • Paleness
  • Sore tongue
  • Peripheral neuropathy in fingers and toes

More severe cases of anemia can produce:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Lack of balance
  • Rapid heartbeat

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Last Modified Date: February 24, 2014

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by Brenda Bell
Many people say that depression is a side effect or complication of diabetes. Without discounting the association of the psychological condition with the physical one, I'm not convinced that our high and/or unstable glucose levels are directly responsible for that change in our mental state. My belief is that the unrelenting need for self-care, for following the sort of care schedules that can drive licensed, professional caregivers crazy, is what overwhelms us...
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