General Approach to Anemias
Anemia is present in adults if the hematocrit is below 41% (hemoglobin less than 13.5 g/dL [135 g/L]) in males or below 36% (hemoglobin less than 12 g/dL [120 g/L]) in females. Congenital anemia is suggested by the patient’s personal and family history. The most common cause of anemia is iron deficiency. Poor diet may result in folic acid deficiency and contribute to iron deficiency, but bleeding is the most common cause of iron deficiency in adults. Physical examination demonstrates pallor. Attention to physical signs of primary hematologic diseases (lymphadenopathy; hepatosplenomegaly; or bone tenderness, especially in the sternum or anterior tibia) is important. Mucosal changes such as a smooth tongue suggest megaloblastic anemia.
Anemias are classified according to their pathophysiologic basis, ie, whether related to diminished production (relative or absolute reticulocytopenia) or to increased production due to accelerated loss of red blood cells (reticulocytosis) (Table 13–1), and according to red blood cell size (Table 13–2). A reticulocytosis occurs in one of three pathophysiologic states: acute blood loss, recent replacement of a missing erythropoietic nutrient, or reduced red blood cell survival (ie, hemolysis). A severely microcytic anemia (mean corpuscular volume [MCV] less than 70 fL) is due either to iron deficiency or thalassemia, while a severely macrocytic anemia (MCV greater than 120 fL) is almost always due to either megaloblastic anemia or to cold agglutinins in blood analyzed at room temperature. A bone marrow biopsy is generally needed to complete the evaluation of anemia when the laboratory evaluation fails to reveal an etiology, when there are additional cytopenias present, or when an underlying primary or secondary bone marrow process is suspected.
Table 13–1.Classification of anemia by pathophysiology. |Favorite Table|Download (.pdf) Table 13–1. Classification of anemia by pathophysiology.
Decreased red blood cell production (relative or absolute reticulocytopenia)
Hemoglobin synthesis lesion: iron deficiency, thalassemia, anemia of chronic disease, hypoerythropoietinemia
DNA synthesis lesion: megaloblastic anemia, DNA synthesis inhibitor medications
Hematopoietic stem cell lesion: aplastic anemia, leukemia
Bone marrow infiltration: carcinoma, lymphoma, fibrosis, sarcoidosis, Gaucher disease, others
Immune-mediated inhibition: aplastic anemia, pure red cell aplasia
Increased red blood cell destruction or accelerated red blood cell loss (reticulocytosis)
Acute blood loss
Membrane lesion: hereditary spherocytosis, elliptocytosis
Hemoglobin lesion: sickle cell, unstable hemoglobin
Glycolysis abnormality: pyruvate kinase deficiency
Oxidation lesion: glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency
Immune: warm antibody, cold antibody
Microangiopathic: thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, hemolytic-uremic syndrome, mechanical cardiac valve, paravalvular leak
Infection: Clostridium perfringens, malaria
Table 13–2.Classification of anemia by mean red blood cell volume (MCV). |Favorite Table|Download (.pdf) Table 13–2. Classification of anemia by mean red blood cell volume (MCV).
Anemia of chronic disease
Vitamin B12 deficiency
DNA synthesis inhibitors