Making your child eat a healthy, balanced diet is important, but it’s not always easy. Children are picky eaters; they’ve always been so. Keeping their health and nutrition on point is one of the biggest challenge that most parents struggle with, thanks to children’s poor eating habits and family’s busy schedules. Many a times, the lack of nutrition leads to iron deficiencies in children, putting them at the risk for developing anemia. 

In fact, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world, and more than 20% of children in the US suffer from anemia at some point in their childhood, which often leads to developmental delays and behavioral problems. 

Let’s find out more about the disease, its symptoms, and ways to protect your kids from iron deficiencies and anemia. 

What is Anemia?

Anemia is a health condition in which our body has a low number of red blood cells, which leads to low hemoglobin concentration. Hemoglobin is a type of protein that allows red blood cells to carry oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body. The lack of red blood cells and/or hemoglobin in the blood leads to insufficient levels of oxygen in the body, which causes: 

  • Breathlessness, or troubled breathing 
  • Constant fatigue 
  • Pale skin, lips and hands 
  • Fast heart rate
  • Headache, dizziness and irritability 
  • Delayed, irregular or absence of menstruation 
  • Enlarged spleen or liver 
  • Slow or delayed growth and development 
  • Poor wound and tissue healing
  • Pica or eating non-food items, like paper, dirt, ice, or couch cushions 

Different Types of Anemia

Depending on the cause, anemia is of many different types: 

  • Iron deficiency anemia: It occurs when there is not enough iron in the body to make red blood cells. This is the most common type of anemia. 
  • Hemolytic anemia: This type of anemia is caused when the red blood cells get destroyed due to serious infections or certain medicines.
  • Sickle cell anemia: This is an inherited type of anemia that occurs due to the abnormal shape of red blood cells, which makes it difficult for them to carry hemoglobin. 
  • Cooley’s anemia (thalassemia): This is another type of inherited anemia that’s caused due to abnormal red blood cells. 
  • Aplastic anemia: This anemia occurs to the bone marrow’s inability to make blood cells. 

What Causes Anemia in Children and Adolescents?

Anemia can be caused due to: 

  • Body’s inability to make enough or proper red blood cells due to nutritional deficiencies. 
  • Loss of red blood cells due to excessive blood loss. 
  • Destruction of red blood cells due to infections, diseases, or certain medications.  

Factors that Cause Anemia in Children

Anemia or iron deficiency can occur due to multiple reasons, but primarily due to the lack of or insufficient nutrition. Other reasons that lead to iron deficiency in infants, toddlers, and teenagers include: 

  • Preterm birth, especially before the third trimester 
  • Being born to mothers with diabetes or severe anemia 
  • Exclusive breast feeding beyond four to six months 
  • Eating vegan diets, without a source of iron-rich foods 
  • Early introduction to cow’s milk (before 12 months)
  • Continued bottle feeding even after 12 months of age 
  • Excessive blood loss due to heavy menses or bloody diarrhea 
  • Predisposition to specific health conditions, like chronic infections or ailments  
  • Restricted diets or not eating enough iron-rich foods 
  • Overweight, obesity, or special health care needs 

Health Complications of Anemia in Children

A long-standing and non-treated anemia in children can lead to: 

  • Delays in growth and development 
  • Severe joint pains and swelling 
  • Bone marrow failure
  • Leukemia or other cancers 

Detection and Treatment of Anemia

Children with mild anemia do not exhibit any signs or symptoms. It’s only through regular screening or annual physicals that you can ascertain the presence or absence of anemia in your child.

The pediatrician may recommend a blood test for measuring the amount of hemoglobin and red blood cells in the blood. A blood smear may be additionally performed to make sure that your child’s red blood cells are healthy and normal. 

Depending on the results, the pediatrician may advise dietary modifications and medicinal supplementation to improve the red blood cell count as well as hemoglobin concentration in your child’s body. 

Ways to Prevent Anemia in Children

Though inherited anemias in children cannot be prevented, anemia that’s caused due to iron deficiency can be easily prevented by making sure your child gets enough iron in his diet. For this, 

  • Make sure your child eats a variety of healthy nutritious food that’s also rich in iron. 
  • Make red meat, chicken, fish, beans, mushrooms, broccoli, and spinach a regular part of their diet. They are all good sources of iron. 
  • Always pick iron-fortified cereals, pastas, breads and other food products during your trip to the supermarket.
  • Don’t give your child more than 24 ounces of milk per day. 
  • Vitamin C helps in the absorption of dietary iron. Include citrus fruits, strawberries, cantaloupe, bell pepper, and tomatoes in your child’s diet. 
  • Give intermittent iron supplementation, but only on the advice of a pediatrician. 

Remember, iron deficiencies and anemias can only be detected through regular health screenings and blood tests. Make sure to schedule your child’s annual physicals at regular intervals to detect and prevent diseases and developmental delays that can be caused by the deficiency of iron in the body. 

At EPIC Health, we offer comprehensive healthcare screenings to help detect iron deficiency in children and adolescents. Our pediatricians evaluate children on multiple parameters to keep their growth and development on track as well as flag out any chronic health condition that requires immediate attention. Through regular screening, extensive nutritional counseling and supplementation support, we make sure your kids grow into healthy, happy adults. 

Schedule an appointment with our expert pediatricians today! We can help your kids stay happy, healthy and better!