Normocytic anemia is one of many types of anemia. It tends to accompany certain chronic diseases.

Symptoms of normocytic anemia are similar to those of other types of anemia. Diagnosing the condition is done through blood tests.

There are specific treatments for normocytic anemia, but treating the underlying cause (if there’s any) is usually the priority.

What is normocytic anemia?

Normocytic anemia is among the most common forms of anemia.

Anemia is a condition in which you don’t have enough red blood cells to provide adequate oxygen to your organs and other tissue.

With some kinds of anemia, the shape or size of red blood cells changes, which helps doctors diagnose the condition.

If you have normocytic anemia, the red blood cells are normal in shape and size. However, the condition means you still don’t have sufficient levels of circulating red blood cells to meet your body’s needs.

In addition, having normocystic anemia often means you have another serious condition, such as kidney disease or rheumatoid arthritis.

What causes normocytic anemia?

Normocytic anemia can be congenital, meaning you’re born with it. Less frequently, normocytic anemia is a complication from a particular medication.

Most often, however, normocytic anemia is acquired — meaning it develops later as a result of another cause, such as a disease.

This is known as anemia of chronic disease (ACD) or anemia of inflammation, because the diseases that can lead to normocytic anemia cause inflammation in certain parts of the body or throughout the body.

Inflammation can affect the body’s immune system, which in turn may reduce red blood cell production or lead to the production of weaker red blood cells that die faster but aren’t replenished as quickly.

The diseases most closely associated with normocytic anemia include:

  • infections
  • cancer
  • chronic kidney disease
  • heart failure
  • obesity
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • lupus
  • vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels)
  • sarcoidosis (inflammatory disease affecting the lungs and lymph system)
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • bone marrow disorders

Pregnancy and malnutrition may also lead to normocytic anemia.

What are the symptoms of normocytic anemia?

Symptoms of normocytic anemia are slow to develop. The first signs of this or any form of anemia are usually feelings of fatigue and a pale complexion.

Anemia may also cause you to:

  • feel dizzy or lightheaded
  • have shortness of breath
  • feel weak

Because normocytic anemia is so often tied to a chronic underlying disease, it can be difficult to distinguish anemia symptoms from those of the underlying problem.

How is normocytic anemia diagnosed?

Anemia is usually first identified in a routine blood test, such as a complete blood count (CBC).

A CBC checks for red and white blood cell counts, platelet levels, and other markers of blood health. The test may be part of your annual physical or be ordered if your doctor suspects a condition such as anemia or abnormal bruising or bleeding.

Up to 40 percent of iron deficiency anemia can present as normocytic anemia during its early stages. If your blood test indicates normocytic or another form of anemia, further testing will be ordered.

Some tests can check the size, shape, and color of your red blood cells. If iron deficiency is the problem, your red blood cells will likely be smaller. If your vitamin B-12 levels are too low, your red blood cells will be larger.

Normocytic anemia is marked by seemingly healthy, normal-looking red blood cells that are just low in number.

A bone marrow biopsy may also be performed, as bone marrow is where red blood cells are produced.

Other tests can show whether your anemia is inherited, which may prompt the testing of other members of your family.

How is normocytic anemia treated?

Because normocytic anemia is usually linked to a chronic health condition, the first priority in treatment should be effectively managing that condition.

Treatments may involve anti-inflammatory medications for rheumatoid arthritis or weight loss for people with obesity.

If a bacterial infection has triggered a reduction in red blood cells, then strong antibiotics may be the solution.

In serious cases of normocytic anemia, shots of erythropoietin (Epogen) may be necessary to boost red blood cell production in your bone marrow.

In even more severe cases, blood transfusions may be ordered to make sure your blood is delivering oxygen to keep your organs and other tissues healthy.

Taking iron pills is appropriate for iron deficiency anemia. However, taking iron supplements because you have any form of anemia may be dangerous. If your iron levels are normal, consuming too much iron can be dangerous.

The doctor who treats blood disorders is a hematologist. But you may need an internal medicine specialist or other physician or team of physicians to effectively address all of your health challenges.

Key takeaways

Normocytic anemia is a common form of anemia, though it usually coincides with a chronic health problem that triggers an inflammatory response in the body.

If you have symptoms such as unusual tiredness, see your doctor and make sure you’re caught up with all of your blood work.

If blood tests reveal normocytic anemia, you should work closely with your physician or team of doctors to treat the underlying problem and this blood disorder.