What Is Anemia? A Simple Question With Some Not So Simple Answers

What Is Anemia A Simple Question With Some Not So Simple Answers

The question is simple – What is anemia? However, the answer is not necessarily so simple. Anemia is a condition that is marked by a deficiency of red blood cells, or hemoglobin. Anemia can be linked to a variety of conditions and diseases, and can affect people of all ages, races, and ethnicities. The more common forms of anemia are noted below. 


According to Merriam-Webster.com, a nutritional deficiency is “an inadequate supply of essential nutrients (as vitamins and minerals) in the diet resulting in malnutrition or disease.” Anemia is one of the diseases that can result. Iron-deficiency anemia is the most common type; low levels of folate or vitamin B-12 can also cause nutritional-deficiency anemias.   

Iron-deficiency anemia causes RBCs to appear oval-shaped, pale, and small when viewed through a microscope. Symptoms can include (but are not limited to): pale skin; tinnitus; changes in the sense of taste; a sore tongue; depression; changes in the menstrual cycle; spoon-shaped finger- and toenails. Causes include poor dietary iron intake, low vitamin C intake, and having a condition, like celiac disease, that inhibits the body from adequately absorbing nutrients. Treatments include change in diet and/or taking iron supplements. 

Vitamin-deficiency anemias occur when one’s diet is deficient in cobalamin (vitamin B-12) or folate (B-9). Vitamin-deficiency anemia, which is also known as megaloblastic anemia, can also develop if the body cannot properly absorb nutrients. It is very common in older people. Megaloblastic anemia causes RBCs to become too large; it can also cause the body to produce too few RBCs.  Symptoms include: tingling or a feeling of pins and needles; mouth ulcers; muscle weakness; confusion/problems with concentration, thinking, and memory, among other things. Treatment includes change in diet and/or taking specific vitamin supplements. 


Aplastic anemia is a rare form of anemia and occurs when the bone marrow does not produce sufficient numbers of RBCs, WBCs, and/or platelets. The exact cause of aplastic anemia is unknown, but is thought to be related to an autoimmune disorder, a viral infection, and/or exposure to toxic chemicals (including chemotherapy for cancer). It can also be an inherited condition. Treatment depends on the cause of the anemia, and can include blood transfusions, blood and marrow stem cell transplants, and lifestyle changes. 


Most commonly found in those of African descent, this type of anemia is characterized by problems with hemoglobin that cause RBCs to have a crescent (or sickle) shape. The body automatically destroys these cells but the body cannot generate new RBCs quickly enough. Sickle cell anemia is a genetic disorder. This type of anemia can be painful. Treatment depends on severity and includes medications, transfusions, and, rarely, bone marrow transplants 


When RBCs are destroyed faster than the bone marrow can manufacture new ones, the result is hemolytic anemia. The “premature death” of the RBCs could be caused by an inherited condition; however, it can also be caused by outside factors such as autoimmune disorders and even some medications. Like other anemias, treatment will depend on the cause of the anemia and typically includes blood transfusions, medications, surgery and procedures, and lifestyle changes. 


Having a chronic disease, such as Crohn’s disease, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, and kidney disease can cause anemia. Treatment would depend on how the anemia manifests itself, and also treating the chronic disease that caused it.  


Cancer (such as leukemia) and cancer-like disorders (myelodysplasia, multiple myeloma, etc.) can disrupt or even totally shut down the bone marrow’s blood-cell-making process. Treatment would be unique to the disease/disorder that was responsible for the anemia.  




D50.8  Other Iron Deficiency Anemias 

Iron deficiency anemia due to inadequate iron intake 

D50.9  Iron Deficiency Anemia Unspecified 
D51.1  Vitamin B12 Deficiency Anemia due to Selective Vitamin B12 Malabsorption with Proteinuria 

Megaloblastic hereditary anemia 

D51.2  Transcobalamin II Deficiency 
D51.3  Other Dietary Vitamin B12 Deficiency Anemia 

Vegan anemia 

D51.8  Other Vitamin B12 Deficiency Anemias 
D51.9  Vitamin B12 Deficiency Anemia, Unspecified 
D52.0  Dietary Folate Anemia 

Nutritional megaloblastic anemia 

D52.1  Drug-Induced Folate Deficiency Anemia 

Use additional code for adverse effect, if applicable, to identify drug (T36-T50) with fifth or sixth character of 5 

D52.8  Other Folate Deficiency Anemias 
D52.9  Folate Deficiency Anemia, Unspecified 

Folic acid deficiency anemia NOS 

D53.1  Other Megaloblastic Anemias, Not Elsewhere Classified 

Megaloblastic anemia, NOS 

D53.9  Nutritional Anemia Unspecified 

Simple chronic anemia 

Excludes anemia NOS (D64.9) 

D57.-  Sickle Cell Disorders 

Use additional code for any associated fever (R50.81) 

Excludes other hemoglobinopathies (D58.-) 

D58.8  Other Specified Hemolytic Anemias 
D58.9  Hereditary Hemolytic Anemia, Unspecified 
D59.8  Other Acquired Hemolytic Anemias 
D59.9  Acquired Hemolytic Anemia, Unspecified 

Idiopathic hemolytic anemia, chronic 

D61.-  Other Aplastic Anemias and Other Bone Marrow Failure Syndromes 

Excludes neutropenia (D70.-) 

The ICD-10-CM codes noted on above chart pertain to the anemias discussed in the blog and are examples only. The list of codes is in no way complete. As always, coders should review chart documentation and refer to the ICD-10-CM book (or encoder) to make certain the correct code is assigned, based on documentation found in the patient record.  





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