What is anemia?
A child who has received a diagnosis of anemia has a problem making or keeping healthy red blood cells.
Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, an iron-rich protein. It carries oxygen from the lungs and transports it to other parts of the body. Hemoglobin production is very important for a healthy growing child.
A child experiencing anemia may experience a number of these symptoms:
- Unusual fatigue or lack of energy
- Faintness or dizziness
- Frequent naps
- Trouble breathing or catching their breath
- Irregular or absent menstrual cycle
- Rapid heart rate
- Jaundice, yellow eyes and skin
- Delayed bodily development
Very young children and teenagers are the most prone to anemia due to both a growth spurt and a possible lack of nutrients in their diet.
Children most vulnerable to anemia are those who:
- Lack vitamins and minerals in their diet
- Have a genetic predisposition to anemia
- Were born prematurely
- Have undergone recent surgery or blood loss
If you have anemia, it means your body isn’t making enough healthy red blood cells to transport oxygen through your body. Anemia can be acquired or inherited genetically. There are many types of anemia, but the types most likely to affect children are:
- Iron deficiency anemia: When your body needs more iron than you have or can produce
- Pernicious anemia: When your body can’t metabolize vitamin B12 and folate properly.
- Hemolytic anemia: Happens when your body destroys red blood cells and your bone marrow (where your body makes red blood cells) can’t replace them fast enough
- Sickle cell anemia: An inherited condition where the normally circle-shaped red blood cells are shaped like a crescent moon, or sickle. This impairs the function of the cell
- Cooley’s anemia: Also inherited, Cooley’s anemia affects the shape and proper function of the red blood cell
- Aplastic anemia: When damage to your bone marrow prevents you from producing red blood cells
Diagnosis for anemia in children
Anemia is common in children, and most doctors will routinely screen for it.
There are several things a doctor can do to diagnose anemia. They will check your child’s signs and symptoms. They will ask you about their diet and genetic history. Then, they will probably take a blood sample to examine further.
The blood tests available to diagnose anemia are:
This test measures the amount of hemoglobin protein found in the red blood cells. It also measures the amount of red blood cells in the sample.
The CBC test examines all the components of the blood: red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelet count.
Reticulocytes are blood cells that haven’t fully matured. This is useful to measure when determining if your child is producing new red blood cells.
The doctor takes a smear of blood and examines it under a microscope to inspect the size and shape of the blood cells .
Treatments for anemia in children
Doctors can easily treat anemia in children, usually. The doctor will recommend a treatment plan based on the type of anemia your child has. After examining the blood sample and diagnosing your child with anemia, your doctor may recommend:
- Iron or vitamin supplements: If the type of anemia your child has is nutrition-based, your doctor may recommend nutritional supplements to encourage healthy red blood cell production and development
- Stem cell or blood transfusion: In more complex cases of anemia, your child’s body may have trouble producing and keeping healthy red blood cells. Stem cells are collected from a donor and placed in the recipient’s blood stream. From there, they travel to the bone marrow to produce new red blood cells
Children and teens need lots of iron for their growing bodies. A diet low in iron and nutrients can delay vital growth and development. Make sure they get the nutrients they need by eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Eating nutrient-fortified foods, such as breakfast cereal with added iron, is a way to supplement their diets.
Your doctor may also refer you to a pediatric hematologist, or blood specialist for children, in more complex cases of anemia.
Possible side effects and complications
Some more serious types of anemia in children require blood and stem cell transplants. These are necessary when the stem cells in your bone marrow don't produce healthy red blood cells. The stem cells need to be replaced. This is a normal and safe procedure for severe cases of anemia, but it can come with side effects.
Radiation is often used to kill the old stem cells and weaken the immune system before introducing the new stem cells. Radiation can cause:
There is a chance that your child’s body will reject the new cells, causing complications. Your doctor may want to monitor your child for a few days after the procedure.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Cedars-Sinai: "Anemia in Children."
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Your Guide to Anemia."
University of Rochester Medical Center: "Anemia in Children."
University of Rochester Medical Center: "Diagnosing Anemia in Children."
Top How Do You Treat Anemia in Children? Related Articles
Anemia: Common Causes, Symptoms, Types, and TreatmentAnemia is a disease marked by low numbers of red blood cells. Low iron deficiency or underlying disease, like cancer, may be to blame. Treatment can resolve anemia.
Anemia: Symptoms, Treatment and CausesAnemia is the condition of having less than the normal number of red blood cells or less than the normal quantity of hemoglobin in the blood. The oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood is, therefore, decreased. There are several types of anemia such as iron deficiency anemia (the most common type), sickle cell anemia, vitamin B12 anemia, pernicious anemia, and aplastic anemia. Symptoms of anemia may include fatigue, malaise, hair loss, palpitations, menstruation, and medications. Treatment for anemia includes treating the underlying cause for the condition. Iron supplements, vitamin B12 injections, and certain medications may also be necessary.
Anemia: How Is It Treated and Can It Be Cured?How is anemia treated and can anemia be cured? Learn how to identify and manage anemia.
Children's HealthChildren's health is focused on the well-being of children from conception through adolescence. There are many aspects of children's health, including growth and development, illnesses, injuries, behavior, mental illness, family health, and community health.
Elelyso (taliglucerase alfa)Elelyso (taliglucerase alfa) for injection is a hydrolytic lysosomal glucocerebroside-specific enzyme indicated for long-term enzyme replacement therapy (ERT) for adults with a confirmed diagnosis of type 1 Gaucher disease. Common side effects of Elelyso include infusion reactions, cold symptoms (sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, sinus pain), throat infection, headache, joint pain, flu, urinary tract infection (UTI), back pain, pain in the extremities, fever, dizziness, fatigue, and others.
Feiba Vh (Anti-Inhibitor Coagulant Complex)Feiba is an Anti-Inhibitor Coagulant Complex indicated for use in hemophilia A and B patients with inhibitors for control and prevention of bleeding episodes, perioperative management, or routine prophylaxis to prevent or reduce the frequency of bleeding episodes. Feiba is not indicated for the treatment of bleeding episodes resulting from coagulation factor deficiencies in the absence of inhibitors to coagulation factor VIII or coagulation factor IX.
What Is Gilbert Syndrome?Gilbert syndrome is a harmless genetic condition that causes abnormal breakdown of bilirubin, a compound that is formed when hemoglobin from red blood cells degrades. High bilirubin can cause jaundice (yellowing of the eyes). Gilbert syndrome does not need to be treated and has a good prognosis.
Increlex (mecasermin [rDNA origin])Increlex (mecasermin [rDNA origin]) is a liquid that contains man-made insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). Increlex is used to treat children who are very short for their age because their bodies do not make enough IGF-1. This condition is called primary IGF-1 deficiency. Serious side effects of Increlex include low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), allergic reactions, and injection site reactions.
Pernicious AnemiaPernicious anemia is a blood disorder in which the body does not make enough red blood cells due to a lack of vitamin B12 in the blood. Pernicious anemia can develop from a lack of a protein that helps the body absorb vitamin B12, not getting enough B12 in the diet, and certain intestinal conditions that interfere with the absorption of vitamin B12 such as Crohn's disease, celiac sprue, or ulcerative colitis. There is no cure for pernicious anemia, thus treatment is life-long.
Pernicious Anemia PicturePernicious anemia is a disease where large, immature, nucleated cells (megaloblasts, which are forerunners of red blood cells) circulate in the blood, and do not function as blood cells; it is a disease caused by impaired uptake of vitamin B-12 due to the lack of intrinsic factor (IF) in the gastric mucosa. It was termed "pernicious" because before it was learned that vitamin B-12 could treat the anemia, most people that developed the disease died from it.
How Do You Fix Anemia?
Anemia describes a condition in which you have a low red blood cell count and low hemoglobin levels. This is a serious condition as red blood cells and hemoglobin carry oxygen to all your cells, allowing them to burn energy. If you’re anemic, you’ll likely feel fatigued and short of breath, lacking physical stamina. You may have heart problems and appear pale. Anemia is often a symptom of some other disease or condition, so treatment varies widely depending on the root cause.
What Foods Are Good and Bad for Your Diet if You Have Anemia?What is anemia? Learn foods that are good and bad for anemia.
Zavesca (miglustat)Zavesca (miglustat) is a prescription medicine used alone to treat adults with mild to moderate type 1 Gaucher disease. Zavesca is used only in people who cannot be treated with enzyme replacement therapy. Serious side effects include numbness, tingling, pain, or burning in your hands or feet; new or worsening hand tremors(shaky movements); diarrhea, weight loss, and low platelet count.