By dispersing oxygen from the lungs throughout entire body, red blood cells play a starring role in survival. When they’re in short supply — a condition called anemia — one may begin to experience symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath. The many possible causes of anemia range from disease, infection and exposure to toxic chemicals to hereditary disorders, heavy menstrual bleeding and nutritional deficiencies.

“Anemia is a decrease in the amount of oxygen-carrying capacity in the body. The effect this condition has on the body depends on the underlying cause of the anemia, as well as how long it lasts,” said Christopher Chai, MD, a family medicine physician at Renown Health. “Generally speaking, anemia is not a common occurrence. The main risk factors for anemia are blood loss, nutritional deficiencies and long-term use of certain medications.”

For example, the frequent use of aspirin for a prolonged period of time can cause gastrointestinal bleeding and, in turn, lead to anemia. The body’s supply of iron dwindles in the face of chronic blood loss — and lack of iron is the most common cause of anemia. Along with heavy bleeding, simply eating a diet that regularly skimps on iron can also result in anemia.

“Supplementing your diet with iron-rich foods or an iron supplement can be a simple fix, but you do want to talk to your doctor first since not all anemia is due to iron deficiency, and you can take in too much iron and damage your liver,” said Amanda Magrini, MD, a family medicine physician at Northern Nevada Medical Group. “There are many other vitamin deficiencies and chronic illnesses that can cause anemia, so talking to your doctor and having the appropriate blood tests done to diagnose the cause is the most important first step.”