Merck Manuals Shares Insights on the Country's Most Common Blood Condition

Monday, March 5, 2018 General News
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Hematology expert provides patient guidance for understanding anemia

KENILWORTH, N.J., March 5, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- More than three million Americans suffer from some form of anemia, a

condition caused by insufficient hemoglobin in a person's red blood cells, or a low red blood cell count. It's the most common blood condition in the country, yet one critical aspect is commonly misunderstood – the fact that anemia is a symptom of an underlying condition, not a standalone disease.

To provide clarity around this condition, Evan Braunstein, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Johns Hopkins School of Medicine's Division of Hematology, discusses why it's crucial for patients to determine the underlying cause of their anemia in a new editorial on

Dr. Braunstein's editorial highlights four things that everyone should know about anemia:

1. Anemia is a sign of another condition

Anemia is the result of some underlying disease or condition, similar to a fever. A fever is a tell-tale sign of another condition – perhaps a virus or bacterial infection. When doctors see a patient with a fever, it's a sign that something else is wrong in the body, and they immediately start trying to figure out what is causing the fever. The same is true of anemia.

There are dozens of causes of anemia ranging from relatively minor things such as an imbalanced diet to serious problems such as cancer. Iron-deficiency anemia, one of the most common types of anemia, can have a number of causes including heavy menstruation, celiac disease, pregnancy, colon cancer or simply not getting enough iron in your diet.

2. The symptoms of anemia are quite common (except for one)

There is a range of normal red blood cell and hemoglobin counts, and different people start to experience symptoms at different levels. By and large, fatigue is the most common sign of anemia. More concerning symptoms include looking more pale than normal and experiencing shortness of breath with a low level of exertion.

One unusual symptom is known as pica. It's characterized by chewing and eating things that are not food, like ice, cardboard or dirt. It appears to be more common in people with nutrient deficiencies.

Monitoring for the symptoms of whatever is causing the anemia is critical as well. For example, symptoms of colon cancer can include unexpected weight loss and blood in stool.

3. Doctors don't screen for anemia

Unlike cholesterol and blood pressure, anemia isn't part of routine screening. Instead, doctors will often order blood tests (called a complete blood count) if people complain of symptoms like fatigue.

If results of that blood workup reveal low hemoglobin, ongoing tests for changes in hemoglobin levels or red blood cell counts may be needed.

4. "Mild" anemia can still be serious

Anemia usually comes on slowly, often over weeks or months. That means that even anemias caused by a serious problem, like cancer, may show up very mildly at first. However, the severity of the anemia doesn't always match the significance of its cause. Determining the underlying cause is the key to treating anemia.

About The Merck Manuals and MSD Manuals

First published in 1899 as a small reference book for physicians and pharmacists, The Merck Manual grew in size and scope to become one of the world's most widely used comprehensive medical resources for professionals and consumers. As The Manual evolved, it continually expanded the reach and depth of its offerings to reflect the mission of providing the best medical information to a wide cross-section of users, including medical professionals and students, veterinarians and veterinary students, and consumers. In 2015, The Manuals kicked off Global Medical Knowledge 2020, a program to make the best current medical information accessible by up to three billion professionals and patients around the world by 2020. For access to thousands of medical topics with images, videos and a constantly expanding set of resources, visit or and connect with us on social media:

For Consumers in the U.S. and its territories: Twitter and FacebookFor Professionals in the U.S. and its territories: Twitter and Facebook

About Merck

For more than a century, Merck, a leading global biopharmaceutical company known as MSD outside of the United States and Canada, has been inventing for life, bringing forward medicines and vaccines for many of the world's most challenging diseases. Through our prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies and animal health products, we work with customers and operate in more than 140 countries to deliver innovative health solutions. We also demonstrate our commitment to increasing access to health care through far-reaching policies, programs and partnerships. Today, Merck continues to be at the forefront of research to advance the prevention and treatment of diseases that threaten people and communities around the world - including cancer, cardio-metabolic diseases, emerging animal diseases, Alzheimer's disease and infectious diseases including HIV and Ebola. For more information, visit and connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn.

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