Is Anemia A Genetic Condition?

Anemia is a medical condition that occurs when the body does not have enough red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the body's tissues and organs, per the Cleveland Clinic. It also occurs if your red blood cells are not able to operate in the way that they are supposed to. Anemia is considered a common condition, affecting around 3 million people in the United States, and 1 out of every 3 people worldwide.

Common symptoms of anemia include fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness, pale skin, and cold hands and feet. There are several types of anemia, each with its unique causes and symptoms. One of the most common types is iron-deficiency anemia. This occurs when the body does not have enough iron to produce hemoglobin, a protein molecule found in red blood cells responsible for transporting oxygen. Although anemia is not typically considered a genetic condition, some forms can have a genetic component.

Is anemia genetic?

While genetic factors do not cause all cases of anemia, several types of the condition are considered hereditary — including sickle cell anemia and thalassemia, per Medical News Today. People with sickle cell anemia have abnormally shaped red blood cells that can get stuck together, leading to reduced blood flow and oxygen delivery to tissues, according to the Mayo Clinic. On the other hand, thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder that affects the production of hemoglobin. A lack of hemoglobin affects the functioning of your red blood cells, which can lead to anemia, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Other genetic conditions that can lead to anemia are Fanconi anemia, congenital pernicious anemia, hereditary spherocytosis, and a rare blood disorder known as thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura. If you are experiencing symptoms of anemia, it's a good idea to speak to your doctor to determine the underlying cause and appropriate treatment.

How are sickle cell anemia and thalassemia treated?

For sickle cell anemia, treatment options may include a blood transfusion, hydroxyurea, and a bone marrow transplant (via the Mayo Clinic). According to the clinic, blood transfusions — which involve injecting healthy red blood cells extracted from donated blood into the patient — may help manage anemia and reduce the risk of complications such as stroke. On the other hand, hydroxyurea can help improve the shape and functionality of your red blood cells via the production of fetal hemoglobin, per the American Society of Hematology. Sometimes, a bone marrow transplant may be recommended as a potential cure for sickle cell anemia.

The treatment options for thalassemia are similar to those for sickle cell anemia and may include blood transfusions and bone marrow transplants, according to the Mayo Clinic. People with thalassemia often require regular blood transfusions to manage their anemia, which can lead to iron accumulation in the body over time. Because excess iron can cause organ damage, iron chelation therapy may also be used to remove excess iron from the body.