Tests and diagnosisBy Mayo Clinic staff
To diagnose anemia, your doctor may recommend:
- Physical exam. During a physical exam, your doctor may listen to your heart and your breathing. Your doctor may also place his or her hands on your abdomen to feel the size of your liver and spleen.
- Complete blood count (CBC). A CBC is used to count the number of blood cells in a sample of your blood. For anemia, your doctor will be interested in the levels of the red blood cells contained in the blood (hematocrit) and the hemoglobin in your blood. Normal adult hematocrit values vary from one medical practice to another but are generally between 38.8 and 50 percent for men and 34.9 and 44.5 percent for women. Normal adult hemoglobin values are generally 13.5 to 17.5 grams per deciliter for men and 12 to 15.5 grams per deciliter for women.
- A test to determine the size and shape of your red blood cells. Some of your red blood cells may also be examined for unusual size, shape and color. Doing so can help pinpoint a diagnosis. For example, in iron deficiency anemia, red blood cells are smaller and paler in color than normal. In vitamin deficiency anemias, red blood cells are enlarged and fewer in number.
If you receive a diagnosis of anemia, your doctor may order additional tests to determine the underlying cause. For example, iron deficiency anemia can result from chronic bleeding of ulcers, benign polyps in the colon, colon cancer, tumors or kidney failure. Your doctor may test for these and other conditions that may be causing the anemia.
Occasionally, it may be necessary to study a sample of your bone marrow to diagnose anemia.
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- McPhee SJ, et al. Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2012. 51st ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=1. Accessed Feb. 7, 2013.
- Bryan LJ, et al. Why is my patient anemic? Hematology and Oncology Clinics of North America. 2012;26:205.
- Laboratory reference values. Hematology group. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; Aug. 2011.
- Overview of hemolytic anemia. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/hematology_and_oncology/anemias_caused_by_hemolysis/overview_of_hemolytic_anemia.html#v969631. Accessed Feb. 7, 2013.