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When to Get Tested for Anemia

Women Getting Tested for Anemia at the Doctor's Office

When a person begins to experience symptoms of persistent fatigue, a common suggestion is to get tested for anemia to see whether a deficiency of iron is to blame. The symptoms of anemia are distinctive; however, they can be easily mistaken for other conditions as well. When left untreated, a lack of iron in the body can hinder one’s ability to engage in everyday activities and perform at its best.

Many people wonder what blood test checks for iron levels and how to test for anemia at home. The purpose of this article is to address those questions and provide information about when it is a good idea to get tested for anemia.

Common Indicators of Anemia

Certain symptoms may trigger a person to have an anemia test done to determine whether an iron deficiency exists. These include sluggishness, paleness, shortness of breath, numbness, and strange food cravings. One may also have difficulty concentrating and headaches. Iron deficiency anemia is quite common among pregnant women, but if left untreated, newborn babies may be more prematurely and have low birth weights.

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What Blood Test Checks for Anemia?

A doctor will draw a blood sample for a complete blood count to test for anemia. This test counts the number of blood cells in a sample of blood, most importantly the red blood cells and hemoglobin. It is also possible that a doctor will review the blood sample to check the size and shape of red blood cells for abnormalities.

In the lab, tests for anemia can include a stool hemoglobin test, which detects bleeding from the stomach or intestines, as well as a peripheral blood smear. Iron levels, transferrin levels, ferritin, folate, vitamin B12, lead levels, and reticulocyte counts may be checked as well as part of the diagnostic process.

How to Get Tested for Anemia

To get tested for anemia, it is recommended to make an appointment with a primary care physician to have the blood test done. The office visit will typically begin with a review of one’s medical history and a physical exam, which may include listening to the heart and lungs, feeling the abdomen, and looking at the skin and gums. From there, doctors will take a complete blood count as the first step to determining a diagnosis of anemia. This test is relatively quick, painless, and routine.

How to Test for Anemia at Home

For convenience, cost, or lack of insurance, many people wonder if they can test themselves for anemia at home. Although most people don’t have access to or experience with blood testing equipment and lab space, there are signs of anemia that can be checked at home.

It is a good idea to check one’s eyelids, lips, and nails every once in a while for signs of anemia. These are places on the body that often show initial signs of the deficiency. One recommendation to try is to rub a clean, gold ring on the cheek of the face or palm of the hand for 30 seconds to look for blue or black lines, which may indicate that anemia is present. However, it is highly recommended to go to a doctor to confirm any self-diagnosis before beginning to pursue a treatment strategy. At this point, iron supplements like Fergon may be recommended to treat iron deficiency anemia.

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