How Anemia Is Treated

If you have been diagnosed with acute or chronic anemia, your problem can be corrected. A variety of treatments are used to treat anemia, including blood transfusions to replace very low red blood cells (RBCs) from traumatic bleeding. Sometimes anemia is treated with vitamin replacement so the body can make its own RBCs.

A major component of your anemia treatment involves managing the cause. For example, when anemia occurs as a medication side effect, the medication is typically discontinued and replaced with another one if possible. And if you have anemia due to a problem like sepsis (a blood infection), then treatment of the infection is necessary before your RBC level can be adequately restored. 

Home Remedies and Lifestyle 

In general, home remedies are only beneficial for managing anemia that is caused by a nutritional deficit related to your diet. Because deficiencies in vitamin B12, folic acid, and iron can cause anemia, eating foods that contain these nutrients can sometimes improve anemia. 

Iron-rich foods include: 

  • Meat
  • Eggs
  • Seafood
  • Strawberries 
  • Dates and figs 
  • Beans 
  • Green leafy vegetables 

Vitamin B12-rich foods include:

  • Meat 
  • Seafood 
  • Eggs
  • Fortified grains 

Folic acid-rich foods include:

  • Beans 
  • Citrus fruit 
  • Bananas
  • Vegetables 

Keep in mind that optimal or even excess amounts of these vitamins cannot prevent or correct anemia if the condition is not caused by a low dietary vitamin intake. For example, chronic bleeding causes iron deficiency anemia, but consuming iron will not correct the anemia unless the bleeding is stopped. 

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Therapies 

Vitamin supplementation can alleviate some vitamin deficiencies. This is especially useful if you can’t consume enough of the foods that contain the vitamins needed for healthy RBCs. You may have this problem due to issues like food allergies or food intolerance. 

Your doctor may recommend vitamin B12 supplements, iron supplements, and/or folic acid supplements. These are generally available without a prescription. Keep in mind that iron supplements can cause severe constipation, and you may need to use a stool softener to avoid this side effect.

Iron and folic acid supplements are commonly recommended for women who are pregnant because they are important for the baby’s development, and these supplements also help prevent pregnancy-associated anemia.

Prescriptions 

In some situations, depending on the cause of your anemia, a prescription may be needed to help restore your RBCs to a healthy level. These medications are typically used to help resolve the illness that caused anemia and they do not replace RBCs in your blood. 

Prescriptions used for management of anemia include: 

Antibiotics: A bacterial infection can trigger anemia, especially if you have sickle cell anemia. In some instances, major bacterial infections can trigger anemia even if you do not have a blood disorder.

Antibiotics are usually necessary for the treatment of a bacterial infection. You could be given a prescription for antibiotics to take by mouth or you might need intravenous (IV, by vein) antibiotics. Your anemia should gradually resolve as you recover from your infection. 

Anti-parasitic medication: If you become infected with a parasite that predisposes to anemia, such as malaria or schistosomiasis, you would need special antimicrobial therapy. Malaria is treated with prescription medications such as chloroquine, quinine, primaquine, and doxycycline. Your anemia may slowly improve as the infection resolves. 

Praziquantel is a prescription treatment used to eliminate the parasite that causes schistosomiasis. After the parasite-associated bleeding resolves, the RBC count is expected to return to normal levels. 

Erythropoietin (EPO): The kidneys produce this hormone, which stimulates the bone marrow to produce RBCs. If you have kidney failure or cancer, you may be given EPO injections to stimulate your own body to make RBCs. 

Vitamin B12 injection: If your GI system cannot absorb vitamin B12 due to pernicious anemia or another stomach problem, you may need to take an injection of this vitamin instead of relying on food or a pill supplement. Depending on your condition, you may need to get vitamin B12 injections on a recurrent schedule to avoid anemia.

Chemotherapy: Cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma cause anemia due to their effect on the bone marrow. Gastrointestinal (GI) cancer, liver cancer, and kidney or bladder cancer may cause anemia due to bleeding or may interfere with the body’s ability to produce healthy RBCs.

Radiation and prescription chemotherapeutic medications are often part of the treatment plan for these cancers. Unfortunately, radiation and chemotherapy may also cause anemia as a side effect as these treatments target and destroy cancer cells.

Medication Adjustments

Because there are many medications that can induce anemia, identifying and stopping the medicine that is responsible for your anemia is often the most effective way to treat the problem.

If your anemia is caused by a medication, you might also benefit from additional treatment, such as vitamin supplementation, erythropoietin (EPO), or a blood transfusion as your body recovers from the effects of the anemia-inducing medicine. 

Surgeries and Specialist-Driven Procedures

In some situations, you may need to have a procedure for the treatment of your anemia. A blood transfusion is the fastest and most direct way of treating severe anemia. Other procedures include surgical management of blood loss and cancer treatments such as bone marrow transplant. 

Procedures used in the treatment of anemia include: 

Blood transfusion: If you have a traumatic injury or a severe medical illness, you might need to have a blood transfusion. An autologous blood transfusion is a procedure in which your blood is collected and stored so that you can receive your own blood if you lose blood during surgery or develop anemia due to cancer treatment.

Allogeneic blood transfusion is a procedure in which the blood for a transfusion comes from a donor. This procedure is used when rapid or unexpected anemia develops or when your own blood is not healthy enough for an autologous transplant. 

Surgical repair: A bleeding ulcer or tumor may need to be repaired or removed. A surgical procedure can help prevent blood loss and may also cure or reduce the size of a cancerous tumor. 

Bone marrow transplant: Some blood cancers are treated with a bone marrow transplant. Often, chemotherapy and other medications are also used prior to the transplant. 

Radiation: Many types of cancer are treated with radiation, usually in conjunction with other methods such as chemotherapy and/or surgery. Depending on the dose and target, radiation can also cause anemia as a side effect. 

Blood chelation: This type of therapy is used to remove lead from the blood if you have lead toxicity. Over time, the RBCs are expected to recover after chelation therapy.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

In general, CAM therapies are not considered safe or effective for the treatment of anemia. RBCs are composed of certain proteins and vitamins, and your body needs these components to make and maintain healthy RBCs.

If you have anemia, be sure to discuss any CAM therapies with your doctor—because some may even cause anemia as a side effect.

A Word From Verywell

Anemia has many causes, and your treatment has to be tailored to the cause of your anemia as well as the effects that it is having on your health. Even after you have been treated for anemia, you can develop the condition again, so you may need repeat treatment if you have a recurrence of anemia in the future.

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