Hemoglobin, a vital protein found in your red blood cells, transports oxygen throughout your body. Sometimes your body does not contain adequate levels of hemoglobin, a condition known as anemia. Anemia can occur if your body is unable to produce enough red blood cells, destroys red blood cells, loses blood or is unable to produce healthy red blood cells. This may be due to various causes, including nutritional deficiencies, inherited disorders, an enlarged spleen and certain cancers. Anemia can leave you feeling very tired and weak, making it difficult to exercise or even perform day-to-day activities.
When hemoglobin levels are low, your tissues and organs do not receive enough oxygen. This can make you feel tired, weak or short of breath. Anemia can also cause chest pain, tachycardia, irregular heartbeat, difficulty concentrating, brittle nails, pale skin, headache and craving non-nutritious things, such as ice.
Normal Hemoglobin Levels
Hemoglobin is considered low if it is less than 13 grams per deciliter, or g/dL, for men and 12 g/dL for women. Pregnant women should maintain levels greater than 11 g/dL.
Ask your doctor if exercise is appropriate for you if you have been diagnosed with anemia. The National Academy of Sports Medicine recommends that you abstain from exercise if you experience severe fatigue or heart symptoms, such as chest pain. If your doctor permits exercise, remember you will feel more tired than usual and may not be able to exercise at previous intensities. Since anemia can cause rapid heart rate and irregular heartbeat, you should also keep an eye on your heart rate during exercise.
Athletes, especially endurance athletes and runners, are at an increased high risk for iron deficiency anemia. This may be caused by loss of iron through sweat, increased iron requirements, decreased iron absorption and use of anti-inflammatory drugs. Long distance runners, in particular, are susceptible to a phenomenon called “foot strike hemolysis” in which red blood cells are destroyed from the impact of running. These individuals should take special care to eat a well-balanced diet rich in iron.
See your doctor if you experience symptoms of anemia. The doctor will perform blood tests to determine if you are anemic and further tests to determine the underlying cause of your anemia. It is prudent to not ignore your symptoms, as anemia can lead to life threatening complications, such as heart failure, if not treated appropriately. Anemia may also be a sign of a serious medical condition.