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Low Hemoglobin: Nursing Diagnoses & Care Plans

Hemoglobin is a protein in the blood that carries oxygen and carbon dioxide to and from the tissues and organs back to the lungs. The body makes hemoglobin through iron, a natural component of red blood cells (RBC).

Normal hemoglobin levels are 14 -18 g/dL for adult males and 12 – 16 g/dL for adult females. What is considered “low” will vary between facilities and patients.


Low hemoglobin is often caused by low iron levels in the blood or iron deficiency anemia and may lead to severe health conditions, including heart problems. Other causes of low hemoglobin include:

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of low hemoglobin include:

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cyanosis
  • Pale skin and gums
  • Fast and irregular heartbeat

A complete blood count, including red blood cell count and hemoglobin level, can help confirm low hemoglobin and other blood cell abnormalities. 

Nursing Process

The treatment and management of low hemoglobin include diagnosing and treating the underlying cause. Nursing care includes patient education of the cause, prognosis, and complications of the condition, provision of iron supplementation, adherence to an iron-rich diet, monitoring of symptoms, and lifestyle modifications.

Nursing Care Plans

Once the nurse identifies nursing diagnoses for low hemoglobin, nursing care plans help prioritize assessments and interventions for both short and long-term goals of care. In the following section, you will find nursing care plan examples for low hemoglobin.

Activity Intolerance

Low hemoglobin levels can be detrimental to a patient’s performance, mobility, and overall health. Low hemoglobin limits the body’s capacity to transport oxygen, causing fatigue and reducing work or exercise capacity.

Nursing Diagnosis: Activity Intolerance

  • Disease process
  • Low hemoglobin
  • Imbalance between oxygen supply/demand
  • Fatigue

As evidenced by:

  • Exertional dyspnea
  • Expresses fatigue 
  • Generalized weakness
  • Tachycardia
  • Tachypnea

Expected outcomes:

  • Patient will report the ability to perform activities of daily living without dyspnea or extreme fatigue. 
  • Patient will identify interventions to reduce activity intolerance.


1. Assess the degree of activity intolerance.
Assess the severity of activity intolerance. Can the patient walk more than 50 feet? Climb stairs? Are they fatigued at rest? What activities can they no longer perform?

2. Assess the patient’s oxygen saturation.
Activity intolerance and fatigue may be precipitated by decreased oxygen saturation.

3. Assess for signs of activity intolerance.
Signs of activity intolerance, fatigue, and reduced tissue oxygenation include dyspnea on exertion, dizziness, headaches, palpitations, and pallor.


1. Encourage adequate rest periods.
Activity intolerance may be aggravated by fatigue. Adequate rest periods can reduce fatigue and promote activity tolerance.

2. Encourage the patient to ask for help.
The patient may be reluctant to ask for help with self-care or household responsibilities. Explain that this increases their risk of injury and will further worsen activity intolerance and fatigue. Help them identify tasks that can be delegated.

3. Instruct on activities that require minimal exertion.
Slowing down may be difficult if the patient is accustomed to an active lifestyle. Instruct on low-impact ways the client can stay active such as short walks, stretching, or light yoga.

4. Administer medications as indicated.
Medications like iron supplements and erythropoietin replacement can help improve low hemoglobin and iron, reducing symptoms of fatigue and activity intolerance.

Decreased Cardiac Output

A decrease in cardiac output can result from blood loss and low hemoglobin.

Nursing Diagnosis: Decreased Cardiac Output

  • Decreased oxygenated blood in the heart
  • Inadequate cardiac muscle contraction
  • Blood loss
  • Difficulty of the heart muscle to pump
  • Low hemoglobin

As evidenced by:

  • Tachycardia
  • Blood pressure fluctuations
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Chest pain
  • Diminished pulses
  • Cool, clammy skin
  • Dizziness and headache
  • Fainting
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Pallor
  • Cyanosis

Expected outcomes:

  • Patient will demonstrate blood pressure and heart rate within normal limits.
  • Patient will manifest normal sinus rhythm on ECG.
  • Patient will have no complaints of dizziness, fainting, or weakness.


1. Closely monitor the vital signs.
A severe decrease in hemoglobin causes an increase in heart rate and can lead to hypertension over time. These compensatory mechanisms are an attempt to increase the level of oxygenated blood throughout the body.

2. Assess cardiovascular status.
Low hemoglobin levels can cause a decrease in oxygen delivery to the heart. Poorly oxygenated blood can lead to an increased risk of arrhythmias, heart failure, and ischemia if left untreated. Assess for chest pain, activity intolerance, and difficulty breathing.

3. Monitor ECG.
Low hemoglobin can result in tachycardia and irregular heart rhythms reflected on ECG.


1. Reduce cardiac stress.
Low hemoglobin can impair cardiac output by causing tachycardia and increased stroke volume. Decrease the workload of the heart by minimizing activity.

2. Treat the underlying cause.
Control blood loss and manage the cause of low hemoglobin. Replace red blood cells and iron through supplements, blood transfusions, and bone marrow transplants if necessary.

3. Anticipate a possible blood transfusion.
A severe decrease in hemoglobin requires a blood transfusion to improve the cardiac output and assist in circulating oxygenated blood throughout the body.

4. Administer medications as ordered.
Intravenous iron therapy or an erythropoietin-stimulating agent can be given to improve the hemoglobin levels of patients with conditions such as anemia or renal disease.


A low hemoglobin level means the patient cannot transport adequate oxygen to the different body organs and tissues, causing the patient to feel weak, tired, and easily fatigued.

Nursing Diagnosis: Fatigue

  • Disease process
  • Diminished oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood

As evidenced by:

  • Difficulty maintaining usual physical activity 
  • Difficulty maintaining usual routines
  • Expresses a lack of energy
  • Expresses weakness 
  • Expresses tiredness 
  • Insufficient physical endurance
  • Inadequate role performance
  • Lethargy 

Expected outcomes:

  • Patient will demonstrate interventions to reduce fatigue. 
  • Patient will identify factors that aggravate feelings of tiredness and weakness.


1. Assess the severity, frequency, and activities that aggravate fatigue.
Fatigue can limit the patient’s ability to perform role responsibilities or perform in their career or complete schoolwork. Assess if there are certain times or other factors that contribute to fatigue.

2. Assess laboratory values.
Monitoring complete blood counts helps determine the progression of the patient’s condition and the effectiveness of interventions.


1. Set realistic goals.
Help the patient plan tasks and set limits for each day. Have them prioritize and complete the most important tasks when energy reserves are highest.

2. Administer medications as needed.
Patients with low hemoglobin may be given erythropoietin-stimulating drugs to help generate more red blood cells.

3. Provide supplemental oxygen.
If cells and tissues are not receiving adequate oxygenation, supplemental oxygen may be required.

4. Eat iron-rich foods.
If the patient has iron-deficiency anemia, they may need to increase iron in the diet by eating red or organ meats, fish, green leafy vegetables, beans, and nuts.

Impaired Gas Exchange

Hemoglobin is the protein that transports oxygen in the blood. If hemoglobin levels are too low, gas exchange will be impaired.

Nursing Diagnosis: Impaired Gas Exchange

  • Ineffective gas exchange process
  • Low hemoglobin levels
  • Blood loss
  • Reduced blood supply to the lungs
  • Disrupted blood flow (ventilation perfusion mismatch)

As evidenced by:

  • Dyspnea
  • Tachypnea
  • Use of accessory muscles
  • Headache or dizziness
  • Change in mentation
  • Change in skin color (pale or cyanotic)
  • Cold extremities
  • Tachycardia
  • Palpitations
  • Prolonged capillary refill time
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue

Expected outcomes:

  • Patient will not experience respiratory distress.
  • Patient will demonstrate oxygen saturation levels and breathing patterns within normal limits.
  • Patient will report relief of dyspnea and anxiety.


1. Assess respiratory status.
Very low hemoglobin levels may cause shortness of breath and changes in the rate and rhythm of breathing.

2. Monitor the oxygen saturation.
Pulse oximetry detects the amount of hemoglobin that is bound with oxygen. A drop in oxygen saturation requires immediate management.

3. Obtain ABGs.
Arterial blood gas (ABG) testing can detect alterations in gas exchange through evaluation of the following:

  • Oxygen content (O2CT)
  • Oxygen saturation (SaO2)
  • Partial pressure of oxygen (PaO2)
  • Partial pressure of carbon dioxide (PaCO2)
  • Blood pH
  • Bicarbonate (HCO3)


1. Treat the underlying condition.
Low hemoglobin levels may indicate that the body is not making enough red blood cells (RBCs), that RBCs are destroyed more rapidly than they are produced, or that there has been significant blood loss. Managing the underlying cause can treat the impaired gas exchange caused by low hemoglobin.

2. Place the patient in a High-Fowler position.
High Fowler’s or an upright position improves gas exchange by maximizing lung expansion.

3. Apply oxygen as ordered.
Oxygen treatment can improve perfusion to tissues and alleviate the symptoms of dyspnea and anxiety.

4. Administer blood products as needed.
Depending on the cause of low hemoglobin, the patient may require blood transfusions to increase hemoglobin levels and relieve impaired gas exchange.

5. Prepare for the possible use of airway devices and mechanical ventilators.
Insert an airway device (such as an endotracheal tube) if breathing difficulties persist. Mechanical ventilators can facilitate gas exchange if supplemental oxygen is not enough.

Risk for Bleeding

Patients may experience low hemoglobin as a result of bleeding or coagulation abnormalities.

Nursing Diagnosis: Risk for Bleeding

  • Low hemoglobin 
  • Trauma
  • Surgical intervention
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Internal bleeding

As evidenced by:

A risk diagnosis is not evidenced by signs and symptoms, as the problem has not occurred yet, and nursing interventions are directed at the prevention of signs and symptoms.

Expected outcomes:

  • Patient will discuss and demonstrate interventions to prevent bleeding. 
  • Patient will demonstrate hemoglobin, hematocrit, and coagulation values within acceptable limits.


1. Assess for any signs of bleeding.
Bruising or hematomas, blood in the stool or urine, pallor, dizziness, tachycardia, or hypotension are signs of bleeding.

2. Assess and monitor laboratory values.
Low hemoglobin, hematocrit, platelet count, and alterations in PT/aPTT levels can signal issues with bleeding.


1. Educate the patient about bleeding precautions.
Bleeding precautions like using a soft toothbrush and the use of an electric shaver instead of a razor can decrease the risk of spontaneous bleeding.

2. Apply pressure over the site as appropriate when bleeding occurs.
Bleeding can be stopped by applying pressure to allow blood to clot.

3. Administer blood products as indicated.
A blood transfusion may be indicated for patients with low hemoglobin and bleeding.

4. Locate the cause and stop the bleeding.
Early identification and intervention through imaging, procedures, or surgery can prevent internal bleeding and worsening complications.


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Maegan Wagner is a registered nurse with over 10 years of healthcare experience. She earned her BSN at Western Governors University. Her nursing career has led her through many different specialties including inpatient acute care, hospice, home health, case management, travel nursing, and telehealth, but her passion lies in educating through writing for other healthcare professionals and the general public.