Causes, Symptoms & Treatment For Microcytic Anemia

Submitted on March 27, 2012

Anemia is a very common condition in which the amount of hemoglobin present in your bloodstream falls significantly. There are different types of anemia which can occur in people. The first is Normocytic anemia, where the blood cells are the normal size. This means that the red blood cells could measure anywhere between 80 microns and 100 microns in diameter. The second type of anemia that can affect people is macrocytic anemia, in which the size of your red blood cells is higher than normal. One of the most common factors that can lead to this condition is the deficiency of Vitamin B12 in the body. The third type of anemia is known as microcytic anemia.

What is Microcytic Anemia?

Microcytic anemia can be described as a condition in which the size of your red blood cells is smaller than what is considered normal. It is one of the most common health problems faced by people of all ages across the world. In case you are suffering from microcytic anemia, the Mean Cell Volume (MCV) your red blood cell size will be less than 80. Since each lab has their own range of reference for what the normal MCV should be, this figure may vary to some extent. Several health experts also refer to microcytic anemia as Hypochromic Anemia, because the cells become paler than normal. For most patients, this form of anemia is synonymous with iron deficiency anemia. This could be due to the fact that the most common cause of microcytic anemia is the deficiency of iron in the body.

Many people only realize that they are suffering from this form of anemia, after going through a physical checkup. However, in the case of others, there may be a few symptoms present. In case you experience bouts of dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, decrease in stamina and pale skin or membranes, it is important for you to consult your doctor, without any delay. There are several different factors that can lead to the deficiency of iron and microcytic anemia. The causes could vary from a poor diet or lifestyle to the presence of certain underlying conditions. Therefore, in order to rule out the possibility of a serious health problem, it is always best to undergo a diagnosis and determine the exact cause of anemia. Most cases of microcytic anemia can be treated by making simple lifestyle changes. Alternately, treating the underlying condition should also cause the MCV of your red blood cells to return to normal.


The main reason why microcytic anemia occurs is the inadequate supply of iron in the body. Your body requires some amount of iron in order to produce hemoglobin, which is an important part of the red blood cells. In case you do not have the required amount of iron, the red blood cells that are produced will be paler and smaller in comparison. Under normal circumstances, your body will store iron in the bone marrow. This stored iron is used by your body to produce red blood cells. In case the iron is not replaced at a proper pace, through the food you consume, you will suffer from the deficiency of iron.

There are several different factors that could contribute towards the decrease of iron levels in the body. Given below are some of the most common microcytic anemia causes:

Blood Loss

Many adults suffer from internal bleeding, which occurs in the gastrointestinal tract. This can cause the body to lose a lot of blood and therefore iron. Internal recurrent bleeding usually takes place because of ulcers. Women who experience heavy bleeding during their menstrual cycles may also be anemic.

Iron Deficient Diet

Your body requires around 1 mg of iron each day in order to remain healthy and to function normally. Ideally, this should come from your daily diet. Therefore, health experts advise us to consume a large amount of green leafy vegetables, which are high in iron and other essential nutrients. Other good food-sources of iron include meat, a few varieties of grains navy beans, chickpeas and lentils. The amount of iron your body needs increases, if you are going through phases of growth or healing. Unfortunately, it is not very easy for your body to absorb iron from the foods that you eat. Studies indicate that your body uses only around one-tenth of all the iron you consume during the day. Several people try to overcome the iron deficiency caused by a poor diet, by taking an iron supplement on a daily basis. However, you should never add an iron supplement to your diet, without consulting a doctor first.

Chronic Diseases

The presence of a chronic disease causes the levels of iron in your body to decline. This also includes infections, inflammations or cancer. These diseases or health problems cause the red blood cells to have a shorter lifespan or could also cause your body to produce fewer new red blood cells. This could also occur because of inefficient iron recycling from the dying red blood cells. In such cases, the anemia begins as normocytic anemia and then progresses to microcytic anemia.

Lead Poisoning

This is one of the most serious causes of microcytic anemia and should be addressed as soon as possible. In case the levels of iron in your body do not rise in spite of iron supplementation, it is best for you to undergo a diagnosis for lead poisoning.


Many people do not realize that they are suffering from some form of anemia only when they go through a physical checkup for another underlying medical condition. This could happen in case you are suffering from a mild case of anemia. However, if the deficiency of anemia is severe, there are other symptoms that you may experience too. Given below are some of the most commonly seen microcytic anemia symptoms:

  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Decrease in appetite, usually accompanied by weight loss
  • Changes in the texture of nails, where they become fragile and break easily
  • Severe headaches
  • Difficulty in concentrating or focusing on tasks
  • Rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath or palpitations
  • Dizziness
  • Pain in the chest
  • Slight yellow tint or paleness to the skin and the whites of the eyes
  • Cyanotic appearance to the lips and nail beds
  • Paleness in the skin, gums, the conjunctive of the eyes and the lines of the palms
  • Heavy menstrual flow in case of women
  • Urge to eat either chalk, or dirt, which is an eating disorder known as pica

In addition to the microcytic anemia symptoms mentioned above, you may also notice that your skin feels cold to the touch. This is because of a reduction in the low blood cells. In case the deficiency of iron is caused by an underlying medical condition, you are likely to experience other symptoms too, in addition to the ones mentioned above. The symptoms of microcytic usually start off as being mild but then gradually worsen with time.


Many instances of microcytic anemia are preventable, just by following a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. However, in case you are diagnosed with this health problem, there are several forms of treatment you can adopt to overcome it. The main objective of microcytic anemia treatment is to increase the production of red blood cells in the body.

One of the first steps of elevating the production of red blood cells is by increasing your consumption of foods that are high in iron. Animal products and most varieties of meat like chicken, turkey, beef, pork, lamb and veal are some of the best sources of iron that you can consume. Meat organs like liver are also good for increasing iron levels. Seafood varieties like scallops, oysters, clams should also be included in a diet for increasing iron. In case you are following a vegetarian diet, rest assured that there are many plant sources of iron that you eat on a regular basis, such as:

  • Oranges and orange juice
  • Grapefruit
  • Strawberries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon
  • Prunes
  • Dates
  • Apricots
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Tomato, tomato juice and sun dried tomatoes
  • Potato
  • Red and green pepper
  • Brown rice
  • Wheat germ and whole wheat
  • Cream of wheat
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Squash seeds
  • Kidney beans
  • Tofu
  • Soy milk
  • Chickpeas
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Blackstrap molasses

You could increase the iron content in your food by adding certain dried herbs and spices to it. Some of the best herbs and spices to add to your diet are thyme, parsley, spearmint, black pepper, fenugreek, bay leaf, anise seed, chervil, marjoram, coriander, cumin seed, basil, dill, rosemary turmeric, oregano and ground savory. The amount of iron present in each type of food is different and therefore, you need to make sure that you consume the adequate number of servings to get the required intake of iron. Do keep in mind that an excess of iron in the body is also quite dangerous and in fact can be as harmful as iron deficiency, if not worse.

In case there is no improvement in the levels of iron in spite of making dietary changes, then you may need to undergo medical treatment, which includes the use of certain medication. In case you are suffering from a health condition that has caused the problem, getting the condition treated should bring about a major improvement.