Anemia caused by low iron - children
Anemia - iron deficiency - children
Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells provide oxygen to body tissues. There are many types of anemia.
Iron helps make red blood cells and helps these cells carry oxygen. A lack of iron in the body may lead to anemia. The medical name of this problem is iron deficiency anemia.
Anemia caused by a low iron level is the most common form of anemia. The body gets iron through certain foods. It also reuses iron from old red blood cells.
A diet that does not have enough iron is the most common cause of this type of anemia in children. When a child is growing rapidly, such as during puberty, even more iron is needed.
Toddlers who drink too much cow's milk may also become anemic if they are not eating other healthy foods that have iron.
Other causes may be:
- The body is not able to absorb iron well, even though the child is eating enough iron.
- Slow blood loss over a long period, often due to menstrual periods or bleeding in the digestive tract.
Iron deficiency in children can also be related to lead poisoning.
To be anemic means that there aren't enough red blood cells flowing throughout your body. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body, so if you're anemic, everything from your brain, to your heart, to your muscles aren't getting enough oxygen to run properly. Iron is a key part of red blood cells. When your body doesn't have enough iron, it'll make fewer red blood cells or make cells that are just too small. If you lose enough iron, you'll wind up with iron deficiency anemia - the most common form of anemia. So, what causes iron deficiency anemia? There are basically three main ways you can become iron deficient. First, bleeding can cause you to lose more blood cells and iron than your body can replace. Bleeding due to ulcers, cancers, taking aspirin or other medicines can cause anemia. In women, this can happen because of heavy or frequent menstrual periods. The second way, your body isn't properly absorbing iron, perhaps, due to an intestinal disease. Some surgeries, like gastric bypass, can lead to anemia. You can also develop anemia if you take too many antacids that contain calcium. Lastly and much less common, is because of inadequate iron in your diet. We see this in strict vegetarians and older folks who simply just don't eat enough food. In many cases, mild iron deficiency anemia comes on so gradually that you may not even know you're anemic. Symptoms of mild anemia are subtle and include feeling grumpy, weak or tired more often than usual and getting headaches or perhaps having problems concentrating. But as the anemia gets worse, you may develop a blue color to the whites of your eyes, light-headedness when you go to stand up and you may look pale or experience shortness of breath. To find out if you've got iron-deficiency anemia. See your doctor; your doctor will start with a Complete Blood Count or CBC test. That'll tell you and your doctor your white, red blood cell and platelet counts. If you're anemic and have small red blood cells, that suggests iron deficiency anemia, so iron studies like serum iron, total iron binding capacity and ferritin level tests should be done. So, what steps can you take -- It's important that your diet include enough iron. Red meat, chicken, turkey. liver, and egg yolks are important sources of iron. Flour, bread, and some cereals are fortified with iron. Sometimes people with anemia take iron supplements to build up iron stores in their bodies. But the thing is - It's not enough just to take extra iron at your doctor's direction...Your doctor needs to find out WHY you've got iron deficiency anemia and treat that underlying cause.
Mild anemia may have no symptoms. As the iron level and blood counts become lower, your child may:
- Act irritable
- Become short of breath
- Crave unusual foods (pica)
- Eat less food
- Feel tired or weak all the time
- Have a sore tongue
- Have headaches or dizziness
With more severe anemia, your child may have:
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will perform a physical exam.
Blood tests that may be abnormal with low iron stores include:
A measurement called iron saturation (serum iron level divided by the TIBC value) can help diagnose iron deficiency. A value of less than 15% supports the diagnosis.
Since children only absorb a small amount of the iron they eat, most children need to have 3 mg to 6 mg of iron per day.
Eating healthy foods is the most important way to prevent and treat iron deficiency. Good sources of iron include:
- Chicken, turkey, fish, and other meats
- Dried beans, lentils, and soybeans
- Peanut butter
- Prune juice
- Raisins and prunes
- Spinach, kale and other green leafy vegetables
If a healthy diet does not prevent or treat your child's low iron level and anemia, your provider will likely recommend iron supplements for your child. These are taken by mouth.
DO NOT give your child iron supplements or vitamins with iron without checking with your child's provider. The provider will prescribe the right kind of supplement for your child. Too much iron in children can be toxic.
With treatment, the outcome is likely to be good. In most cases, the blood counts will return to normal in 2 to 3 months. It is important that the provider finds the cause of your child's iron deficiency.
Anemia caused by a low iron level can affect a child's ability to learn in school. A low iron level can cause decreased attention span, reduced alertness, and learning problems in children.
A low iron level can cause the body to absorb too much lead.
Eating a variety of healthy foods is the most important way to prevent and treat iron deficiency.
Fleming MD. Disorders of iron and copper metabolism, the sideroblastic anemias, and lead toxicity. In: Orkin SH, Fisher DE, Ginsburg D, Look AT, Lux SE, Nathan DG, eds. Nathan and Oski's Hematology and Oncology of Infancy and Childhood. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 11.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Iron-deficiency anemia.
Rothman JA. Iron-deficiency anemia. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 482.
Last reviewed on: 1/14/2020
Reviewed by: Adam S. Levy, MD, Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, The Children's Hospital at Montefiore, Bronx, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.