Anemia of Chronic Disease

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Certain disease diseases, such as autoimmune forms of arthritis, chronic infections, or fibromyalgia, can interfere with the production of red blood cells.  The result is a condition called Anemia of Chronic Disease or ACD.

What is Anemia?

Anemia is a disorder where the blood has a lower than normal range of red blood cells. Anemia can also happen when the red blood cells do not have enough hemoglobin in them.  Hemoglobin is an iron rich protein that makes blood red. This protein also helps our red blood cells to carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

In people with anemia, their bodies are not getting enough oxygen-rich blood. Symptoms of anemia include fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness or headaches. Further, severe or chronic anemia can damage body organs including the heart and brain and even result in death.

The good news is that you can even prevent anemia with a healthy diet and treatment can be as simple as a dietary supplement.  Conversely, some forms of anemia, such as ACD, can be severe, chronic and even life threatening if not diagnosed early enough and treated.

Anemia of Chronic Disease  

People who develop Anemia of Chronic Disease do not develop a severe form of anemia.  Further, ACD is second most common form of anemia, after iron deficiency anemia.   While it most often found in patients with chronic diseases, with the elderly being at the greatest risk, it can also be found in young children suffering from a simple ear infection.  Most often, this type of anemia goes undetected and untreated because attention is focused on treating the chronic condition or infection.

According to the National Institutes of Health, ACD occurs when a chronic illness affects the body’s ability to make healthy red blood cells.[1]  In most cases, this happens because the chronic condition prevents the body from using iron efficiently to produce new red blood cells regardless of whether the body has normal or high levels of iron.

Anemia of Chronic Disease is slow progressing so symptoms are generally mild and may be similar to symptoms of the underlying chronic condition.  Symptoms will include paleness, weakness, dizziness and a fast heartbeat.

What Conditions Cause ACD?

It is believed that up to 60% of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are anemic, this according to a research study reported by the National Journal of Medicine.[2]  RA is not the only inflammatory disease that can cause ACD. Other conditions include lupus, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s’ disease, degenerative joint disease and diabetes.   Inflammatory diseases provide a response in the body that can produce cytokines, proteins that protect the body against infection and interfere with iron processing and the manufacture of red blood cells.

While fibromyalgia is not considered an inflammatory condition, it is still a rheumatic condition that impairs the joints and/or soft tissues causing chronic pain. Further many fibromyalgia patients have anemia and many often go undiagnosed because of the similarity of symptoms between both conditions.  Without proper treatment, anemia will worsen fibromyalgia symptoms and make life for patients even more difficult.

People with chronic infections or infectious diseases can also develop ACD.  This is because their immune systems will respond to the infection resulting in an impediment of red blood cell production.

Treating ACD is Fairly Easy

Anemia of Chronic Disease is fairly easy to treat.  Treatment may depend on the reason for the anemia and how severe it has gotten.  ACD can generally be managed through medication or dietary supplements, including folic acid.  Most anemic patients take vitamin injections or iron supplements to correct iron levels. Further, most treatment can be administered at home with little monitoring. In rare cases, a blood transfusion may be necessary.

Successful treatment of ACD also involves treating the underlying disease.  As the symptoms of the chronic condition diminish, so will the anemia. If you think you have anemia of any form, talk to your doctor. A simple blood test is all it takes for an accurate diagnosis.

[1]               “Anemia of Inflammation and Chronic Disease.” (2012, April 6.) National Hematologic Diseases

Information Service. Retrieved from

[2] Wilson, et al. (2004, April 5). “Prevalence and outcomes of anemia in rheumatoid arthritis.” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from