Can Stress Cause Anemia?

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Anemia is a condition that occurs when your body doesn’t make enough red blood cells. Your body needs red blood cells to transport oxygen to all of its organs. If you don’t have enough red blood cells, this could create a shortage of oxygen to these organs, resulting in symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, heart palpitations, and pale skin. When your organs don’t receive enough oxygen, they lose the ability to function effectively. 

Scientists have identified a tentative link between stress and anxiety, and anemia. With both conditions, a chicken and egg scenario seems to exist in the sense that some researchers believe that stress could cause anemia.

In contrast, others believe that anemia causes stress and anxiety. Both scenarios are factual to some degree. This article examines both scenarios and the link between stress and anemia. It also covers how to treat and cope with both conditions.

The Connection Between Stress and Anemia

There’s evidence to suggest that stress can cause anemia. There are two forms of stress—chronic and acute stress. While the latter only temporarily affects you physically, the former can lead to long-term physical and emotional complications. When stressed, your body undergoes specific physiological changes that could be linked to anemia. The exact way both conditions interact is still being researched. 

Several theories can be used to explain the connection between stress and anemia. One view is that anxiety can lead to iron-deficiency anemia. Living with chronic stress for an extended period has been linked to anxiety, a condition that has long been associated with emotional stress.

However, there’s no conclusive evidence that anxiety can cause anemia. What is known is that anxiety can lead to nutritional deficiencies. Nutritional deficiency, particularly iron deficiency, is a common cause of anemia. Folate, magnesium, vitamin A and vitamin B12 also play a role.

Another theory is magnesium depletion in your body. When your body is under a lot of stress, it’s more likely to use more magnesium. Iron deficiency is one of the most common ways to develop anemia. Research shows that magnesium deficiency has also been linked to iron-deficiency anemia. 

Another way stress may cause anemia is by affecting your diet. People react to stressful situations in different ways. While some people may begin to overeat, others may not eat as much leading to malnutrition. Malnutrition is the leading cause of iron deficiency anemia. Chronic stress also prevents your body from producing hydrochloric acid. Your body needs hydrochloric acid to help your body digest food. When it fails to produce it sufficiently, it affects how your body digests food and the nutrients it can get from the food you consume. 

It’s essential to note that anxiety can also be a symptom of anemia. Anemia can be a challenging condition, especially before diagnosis and treatment. Its symptoms can cause a person to become stressed and anxious over the symptoms they are exhibiting. In a 2020 study, researchers found that people with iron deficiency anemia have a significantly higher risk of developing conditions such as anxiety, depression, and certain psychotic disorders.

Complications of Stress and Anemia 

Both anemia and stress can lead to medical complications. With anemia, severe cases can lead to irregular heartbeat, heart failure, increased risk of infections, and depression when it’s not treated. Chronic stress can also lead to medical complications such as hypertension, depression, anxiety, and heart disease. Both conditions can be fatal if left untreated or mismanaged.

Diagnosis of Stress and Anemia 

There’s no specific method for diagnosing stress. In many cases, your body will tell you when it’s stressed. A simple blood test can be used to diagnose iron-deficiency anemia. The test checks your hemoglobin, blood iron, and ferritin levels. If your doctor observes that the iron levels in your blood are low, this may indicate anemia.

Treatment of Stress and Anemia

Several approaches can be taken in the treatment of anemia. The first line of treatment is typically iron supplements. Your doctor will likely prescribe them for up to six months to help restore your iron levels to normal.

In some cases, taking iron supplements can cause side effects such as vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea. In severe cases, the iron may need to be delivered intravenously, that is, through a vein. This method delivers iron to your blood more quickly.  

Coping With Stress and Anemia 

Many tips that can help you manage stress can also help you manage symptoms of anemia. Management techniques for both conditions include: 

  • Get enough sleep: Getting enough sleep is essential for the optimal well-being of every human being. 
  • Maintain a healthy diet: Your diet plays a massive role in the development of iron deficiency anemia. A diet lacking in magnesium and iron could cause the condition. Eating an unhealthy diet when stressed also increases your risk of developing health challenges. Maintaining a healthy diet is essential for the management of both conditions. 
  • Make time for rest: It’s essential to give your body time to rest and recover from both conditions. With stress, the importance of rest can’t be overemphasized. Meditating, socializing with family and friends, and doing hobbies you love are great ways to rest. 


More research needs to be put into understanding the link between anemia and stress. What has been determined is that stress can lead to nutritional deficiencies, which may contribute to the development of iron deficiency anemia. A person with anemia is likely to feel emotional stress over their symptoms. Unfortunately, this can worsen anemic symptoms.

A Word From Verywell 

There’s sufficient scientific evidence of the link between stress and anemia. While preventing stress might not be guaranteed to prevent anemia in everyone, it follows that preventing chronic stress can help reduce the risk of anemia, especially iron deficiency anemia. Many symptoms you are likely to experience when you are anemic could also occur when you are stressed or anxious. 

10 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  6. Mandal U, Ali KM, Chatterjee K, De D, Biswas A, Ghosh D. Management of experimental hypochlorhydria with iron deficiency by the composite extract of Fumaria vaillantii L. and Benincasa hispida T. in rat. J Nat Sci Biol Med. 2014;5(2):397-403.

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  10. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Iron-deficiency anemia. March 24, 2022

By Toketemu Ohwovoriole
Toketemu has been multimedia storyteller for the last four years. Her expertise focuses primarily on mental wellness and women’s health topics.