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:
- Diet low in iron
- Recent gastrointestinal surgery
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
- Gastrointestinal bleeding
- Recent blood donation
- Growth spurts in children
- Certain medical conditions like anemia, sickle cell disease, cancer, cirrhosis, chronic kidney disease, and leukemia
Signs and symptoms of low hemoglobin include:
- Shortness of breath
- 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.
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 Related to Low Hemoglobin
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
- 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.
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
As evidenced by:
- Exertional dyspnea
- Expresses fatigue
- Generalized weakness
- 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.
Risk for Bleeding
Patients may experience low hemoglobin as a result of bleeding or coagulation abnormalities.
Nursing Diagnosis: Risk for Bleeding
- Low hemoglobin
- 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.
- 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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- Low Hemoglobin. Cleveland Clinic. Reviewed: May 4, 2022. From: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/17705-low-hemoglobin
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