Anemia

How is anemia diagnosed?

Anemia is usually detected, or at least confirmed, by a complete blood cell (CBC) count. A CBC test may be ordered by a physician as a part of routine general checkup and screening or based on clinical signs and symptoms that may suggest anemia or other blood abnormalities.

What is a complete blood cell (CBC) count?

Traditionally, CBC analysis was performed by a physician or a laboratory technician by viewing a glass slide prepared from a blood sample under a microscope. Today, much of this work is often automated and done by machines. Six component measurements make up a CBC test:

  1. Red blood cell (RBC) count
  2. Hematocrit
  3. Hemoglobin
  4. White blood cell (WBC) count
  5. Differential blood count (the "diff")
  6. Platelet count

Only the first three of these tests -- the red blood cell (RBC) count, the hematocrit, and the hemoglobin -- are relevant to the diagnosis of anemia.

Additionally, mean corpuscular volume (MCV) is also often reported in a CBC, which basically measures the average volume of red blood cells in a blood sample. This is important in distinguishing the causes of anemia. Units of MCV are reported in femtoliters, a fraction of one millionth of a liter.

Other useful clues to causes of anemia that are reported in a CBC are the size, shape, and color of red blood cells.

Reviewed on 3/26/2012