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How Does Anemia Affect Mental Health?

By HERWriter
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How Does Anemia Affect Mental Health? Photo: Photospin - Sohel Parvez Haque

Different medical conditions, including anemia, can affect mental health. Anemia is characterized as a health condition involving a deficiency in hemoglobin, which helps red blood cells carry oxygen, according to an article on www.familydoctor.org.

Many women know how it can feel to lose too much blood during their menstrual cycles. Iron deficiency can be caused by heavier periods, and this can lead to anemia in some cases, according to an article on www.familydoctor.org. This type of anemia is referred to as iron deficiency anemia.

General mental health symptoms of anemia include fatigue, dizziness, headaches, difficulty thinking and concentrating, according to an article on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website.

Nzinga Harrison, a board-certified physician who specializes in general psychiatry and addiction, said in an email that anemia can have comparable symptoms to some mental health disorders.

“Anemia is one of the most prevalent illnesses in America that has mental health symptoms,” Harrison said. “The most common symptoms are fatigue, loss of energy, difficulty sleeping, heart racing and light headedness. When you compare those to the symptoms we use to diagnose depression, you can see the overlap: loss of energy, fatigue, difficulty sleeping.”

Anemia and anxiety can share some similar symptoms as well.

“The racing heart symptoms and light-headedness can sometimes be indistinguishable from the anxiety symptoms associated with panic attacks,” Harrison said. “So overlapping are the symptoms of anemia and depression, that psychiatrists will routinely check a CBC (complete blood count) to rule out anemia as a cause of depression or anxiety in women (the group that has the highest prevalence of anemia).”

Anemia can even impede the recovery process for people who formerly abused drugs and alcohol.

“While it is widely appreciated by psychiatrists that anemia can contribute to depressive and anxious symptoms, it is dramatically underappreciated that anemia can put individuals who are in recovery from drugs and alcohol at risk for relapse,” Harrison said. “The symptoms of fatigue, shakiness, light-headedness and racing heart can put individuals at risk for relapsing to stimulant type drugs (cocaine, adderall, ritalin) to try to boost energy, or alcohol to try to calm the racing heart and what feels like bad nerves.”

Douglas Beach, a doctor, said in an email that anemia usually isn’t the cause of mental health issues.

“Anemia [is] usually a sign or manifestation of [an] underlying disease process,” Beach said. “If the degree of anemia is severe, it can cause fatigue and exertional shortness of breath. Fatigue can have a direct impact on one's overall well-being and lead to feeling ‘depressed.’ However, mild anemia should have no effect. On the other hand, the underlying disorder causing the anemia is more likely to affect mood, such as chronic diseases like kidney disease, inflammatory arthritis, and an underactive thyroid. Anemia from vitamin deficiencies, such as B12 deficiency, can rarely be associated with depression and memory loss/dementia.”

How do you think anemia affects mental health? Do you have anemia and have you suffered any mental health effects? Share your stories below.


Familydoctor.org editorial staff. Anemia: When Low Iron Is the Cause. Web. August 3, 2011. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/blood/009.html

National Center for Biotechnology Information and the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Anemia – PubMed Health. Web. August 3, 2011.

Harrison, Nzinga. Email interview. August 3, 2011.
Beach, Douglas. Email interview. August 2, 2011.

Reviewed August 4, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment8 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

Its such a pity that a lot of medical practitioners have not come across this overlap between the symptoms of anaemia and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. I personally suffered from all the common symptoms of anaemia for most of my life but they got more severe after the birth of my child (about four years ago). I had all the hallmark symptoms, i.e. fatigue, breathlessness, dizziness, very dry skin and i finally self- diagnosed last year when i had a severe case of pica (craving for clay). I bought iron supplements over the counter and a lot of things improved drastically. It was then that i realised that i had a plethora of other less obvious symptoms such as severe episodes of depression, particularly on my PMS days, anxiety, always feeling on the edge and overwhelmed, very low motivation levels, poor concentration on tasks,exercise intolerance, irritability, weight loss as well as weak and brittle hair. All these symptoms have affected my day to day functioning and I am working on the recovery process. I strongly feel that awareness should be raised on the understated effects of anaemia, particularly for women who are diagnosed with anxiety and depression, to rule out the possibility of anaemia as an underlying cause.

January 5, 2020 - 12:49pm
Guide (reply to Anonymous)


Your story will help others. Thank you for sharing your experience with our community. I'm glad you are on the road to recovery.


January 5, 2020 - 2:07pm
EmpowHER Guest

Anemia causes exercise intolerance, weakness, and fatigue among many other potential symptoms. When we are tired, we often do less and sleep more. This helps if the fatigue and tiredness are due to excessive physical activity or lack of sleep, but generally does not help with anemia-associated fatigue. You can spend the whole day in bed and still feel wiped out. Does spending the day (or night) in bed improve anemia? No, it doesn't. Anemia has many causes - nutritional deficiencies, bleeding, medication toxicities, infections, and even HIV itself. Treatment of anemia depends on the cause or causes. Iron or vitamin supplements would be helpful for some nutritional deficiencies.

June 12, 2018 - 3:57am
EmpowHER Guest

I was severely anaemic due to genetic issues and if i don't take my 3 iron tablets a day my anaemia can return. Being a teenager at school and being typically self conscious and bullied i was told i had anxiety and for about a year I suffered with depression. This was last year and I only found out I was anaemic at the end of last year. I went to the doctors and took many different types of anti depressants but the only thing that got me feeling better was my iron tablets. It turned out that because I had been anaemic my whole life without knowing it was so sever that I didn't even have the energy to stay awake for a whole day and would have daily 3-5 hour naps and feel constantly out of breath. Since taking my iron tablets this has got so much better and I don't feel as weak and physically sick like I used to. These days I think there is a lot of mis diagnosis going on and because I didn't know I was anaemic my doctor just said I had depression and anxiety. If i had been spotted as anaemic earlier I would have saved myself years of feeling down and ill. I still have anxiety but it is a lot better than it was so to anyone who thinks they have depression or anxiety its worth getting a blood test because if your anaemic and you can take iron tablets it will up your energy and make you feel so much better.

April 30, 2016 - 2:03am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Did you also have depersonalization/derealization symptoms accompanied with fatigue, lack of energy, and anxiety? Did these symptoms go away after taking the iron supplements?

September 16, 2017 - 10:51am
EmpowHER Guest

I was recently very depressed and cranky
I had become irritable and easily upset. I jas Ben locking myself away from my kids, and pulling away from friends and family. I had been diagnosed with anxiety and depression a few years back. I began feeling more and more trapped and isolated. It got to the point where I truly was afraid of killing myself. I managed to to get to a hospital due to an EDO only to find out my hemoglobin was super low! My doctor even said he was amazed I was up and walking around at the time! After only 3 hours after taking it I felt like new! I've been told to follow up with a hematolgist to keep up better with my iron levels and probably my mental health!

February 4, 2016 - 5:43am
EmpowHER Guest

Light bulb moment, I have suffered depression and anxiety since my first baby was born 27 years ago and have taken antidepressants since (26) years I have always been pale and hemorrhage with my last 2 baby's I was given iron injections and felt amazing for the past 2-3 years the anti depressants stopped working and after 3 different trials of ADs nothing helped I couldn't get out of bed I was suffering anxiety finally I went to a government funded psychiatrist twice I came away feeling more crazy than ever I booked into a private psych and she asked my GP for full bloo d tests guess what, GP tells me I'm severely anaemic . Finally I have an answer and will be going on a course of iron injections this week, finger s crossed for me xx

January 28, 2015 - 12:11pm

Very interesting article .Anemia is what I live with and all thoses symptoms is what I have I use to take Slow K medicine tablets but stop taking it,for whatever reason I can't remember but I know for sure that I felt much healthier when I took Slow K.I think with perimenopausal symptoms it could help a great deal because I am really going through a tough spell right now.

August 6, 2011 - 2:08pm
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