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Anemia may be linked to Anxiety

Wendy M Yoder, Ph.D.
Anemia may be linked to Anxiety

Anemia is caused by the body not generating enough healthy red blood cells, either because the blood cells are not nourished enough or there are simply fewer of them being made. While there are several types of genetic anemia, most forms of anemia are caused from nutritional deficiencies (typically iron or vitamin B12)

Many of the symptoms anxiety and panic attacks are similar to those associated with anemia and related problems may occur.. For many, this causes substantial worry, which is why this article will explore the connection between anxiety and anemia.

Similar Symptoms for Different Diseases

Many people convince themselves they have anemia because it's hard for them to believe that their symptoms could be caused by anxiety. Anemia is not that uncommon either, affecting roughly 5 to 10% of the population.

But many of those are pregnant women and those born with red blood cell diseases. 

The symptoms of anxiety – especially panic attacks – and anemia are very similar, so it is no wonder that so many of those living with anxiety convince themselves anemia must be the cause. Both anxiety and anemia cause:

However, while anemia may cause these symptoms, it also often leads to other, more serious problems that cause hospitalization. Similarly, the symptoms above are also caused by an issue that is far more common – hyperventilation. As many as 50% of those with panic attacks or more hyperventilate, along with millions of people with anxiety.

So while it's possible to be anemic, it's also very likely that you simply have symptoms of panic attacks and hyperventilation, both of which are more common and more likely to lead to these issues – especially if you have a healthy diet.

Understanding Anemia And Anxiety

Anemia generally occurs when there is a lack of specific vitamins in the body. Iron is the most common, but you can be anemic if you don’t have enough Vitamin B12, Magnesium, Folic Acid and more. Many different vitamin deficiencies can lead to anemia.

Anemia itself can also cause anxiety as a symptom. Those that are anemic are placing their body under a great deal of stress, and this often sends messages to the brain to be more anxious. Further, the brain may not be getting enough healthy blood, and the symptoms of anxiety (such as heart palpitations) may cause anxiousness on their own.

So it is possible for someone to be anemic, and have that anemia lead to more anxiety. It's also possible for someone to have symptoms of anemia, and the person that lives with those symptoms develops an anxiety disorder because of the way the symptoms cause them stress.

Does Anxiety Cause Anemia?

An interesting question though is whether or not anxiety can actually cause anemia. It's unlikely that anxiety can lead to dangerous levels of anemia, but it may be possible for anxiety to contribute to the development of mild anemia.

Studies have rarely looked at the effects of anxiety on vitamin metabolism. But there are reasons to believe that stress does have an effect. For example, as many as 25% of the country is already magnesium deficient. During times of severe stress, the body actually uses up magnesium in the body. Thus those with anxiety (which causes severe stress) may already have low magnesium, and then be using up what they do have when they're experiencing anxiety attacks. It's possible this leads to the development of mild anemia.

Hyperventilation also uses up magnesium. Since many people with anxiety hyperventilate, a large number may be contributing to a magnesium deficiency and ultimately anemia.

Anxiety can also affect the immune system, which may have an effect on anemia. It can also cause poor eating habits – these too may cause you to become more anemic.

These are all unexplored, but absolutely possible links between anxiety and anemia.

How to Break the Link Between Anxiety and Anemia

Anemia is a health problem. So even if your anxiety caused your anemia, your anemia caused your anxiety, or the two are completely independent, one of the most important things you can do is start taking vitamin supplements and eating a healthier diet. Magnesium is likely the best place to start, followed by iron and vitamin B12. Always talk to your doctor first to make sure it's safe to take these vitamins. Eating a healthier diet in general can have an effect on the severity of your anxiety levels as well, so make sure that you're getting the right amount of nutrition on a daily basis.

Once you've developed anxiety, it's hard to stop it without help. Even if your anxiety was caused by anemia, you'll still need to learn to control your anxious reactions that have developed as a result.

Article Resources
  1. Fehlinger R, Seidel K. The hyperventilation syndrome: a neurosis or a manifestation of magnesium imbalance? Magnesium. 1985;4(2-3):129-36.
  2. Kallich, Joel D., et al. Psychological outcomes associated with anemia-related fatigue in cancer patients. Oncology 16.9 Suppl 10 (2002): 117-24. 
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