More than three million Americans suffer from a red blood cell condition that can make them an easy prey to memory problems.

And most of these people don’t know they have this medical problem. Its symptoms may seem unimportant and of little concern.

But if you are one of these millions, your brain and ability to think straight may be in danger. The problem I’m talking about is anemia – which may be the most common blood disorder in the world.

When you have anemia, your blood doesn’t have enough red blood cells to keep the rest of your body supplied with sufficient oxygen.

How can you tell if you have anemia? You may have it without experiencing any symptoms at all. But the most common signs include fatigue, headaches, pale skin, leg cramps, shortness of breath, rapid pulse and trouble sleeping.

Beyond those irritating occurrences, research now shows that anemia can hamper your memory and lead to Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia.

Loss of Memory and Cognitive Ability

A study in Germany shows that folks with anemia score lower on tests of memory and executive function. Executive function is the mental wherewithal that allows you to make effective decisions, cope with the normal situations of daily life and live independently.1

In this research, the scientists found that having anemia doubles your risk for mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition of forgetfulness that often leads to full-blown Alzheimer’s disease.

The German researchers believe that if someone with MCI is found to be suffering from anemia, then treating the anemia may help improve memory and prevent the brain’s decline into the total mental confusion of dementia.

Along the same lines, a study in Australia demonstrates that when your blood contains less hemoglobin (the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen), your risk for Alzheimer’s disease increases. Sadly, that situation can become a lose-lose situation: After you develop Alzheimer’s, the dementia can make your anemia worse.2

Another risk of anemia is the fact that it hinders your brain’s ability to heal if you suffer a traumatic brain injury — in a car accident, for example.

And frighteningly, according to researchers at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, half of patients hospitalized with traumatic brain injuries are anemic.

The Missouri scientists discovered that even slight drops in your blood’s hemoglobin level significantly reduce your chances of successfully recovering from brain damage.3

Doctors Can Cause Anemia

Researchers have also found that medical tests can lead to anemia.

For example, a study at the Cleveland Clinic shows that if you have heart surgery, doctors routinely perform so many blood tests that the withdrawal of all that blood can lead to anemia.4

“We were astonished by the amount of blood taken from our patients for laboratory testing,” says researcher Colleen Koch. “Total phlebotomy volumes approached 1 to 2 units of red blood cells, which is roughly equivalent to 1 to 2 cans of soda.”

The Cleveland Clinic study showed that folks in the hospital for cardiac surgery had an average of 116 blood tests during the time they were hospitalized.

These researchers say that if you’re having heart surgery, you should question your doctor about the necessity of all those tests. I would add – have a family member or friend along with you to question some of the tests. You’ll be in no condition to put up resistance.

But getting checked for anemia is simple. All you need is what’s called a complete blood count (CBC). Make sure that test is included in your next medical exam.