What You Need to Know About Iron Deficiency Anemia
Common Deficiency Can Cause Numerous Health Issues
November 01, 2010Today's supermarket shelves carry a limitless array of iron-fortified foods and vitamin supplements. So, it might surprise you that inadequate iron is the most common nutritional deficiency in children and adults in the United States.
Iron is needed to make hemoglobin, which carries much-needed oxygen throughout our bodies. A lack of this critical element can lead to a condition called iron deficiency anemia (IDA).
If your child is diagnosed with IDA, here is what you need to know about its causes, prevention, and treatment. With proper treatment, you child's anemia should improve quickly, minimizing the chance of it leading to developmental delays or behavioral problems.
Symptoms and Causes
Symptoms of IDA include pale, gray, or "ashy" skin; irritability; mild weakness; and tiring easily.
The most common causes are rapid growth spurts (mostly in young children and teens) and imbalanced diets. Adolescent girls with heavy menstrual periods are sometimes diagnosed with IDA. Rare stomach or intestinal issues may also be the reason the body isn't absorbing iron.
Poor diet is the most common reason that children under age four have IDA, and it is usually associated with drinking too much cow's milk (because it decreases the desire for other foods with greater iron content, such as meat or iron-fortified cereal).
Diagnosis and Treatment
A blood test is the most common way IDA is diagnosed, but other steps might include a physical examination, X-rays, or referral to other doctors for specialized testing.
Treatment will vary based on factors including your child's age and overall Health and medical history. The physician also will consider the extent and the cause of your child's IDA.
If IDA is due to diet, your child's doctor may recommend an iron-rich diet or iron supplements (pills or drops). Typically, supplements will help iron levels in the blood return to normal in a matter of weeks to months.
If your child is prescribed supplements, you can help increase their absorption by giving them to your child in between meals and with vitamin C-rich juice, such as orange. Should your child's stomach becomes irritated, give supplements with food. If the pills or drops cause constipation, a stool softener or laxative may be needed.
Also include foods rich in iron as part of your child's diet. These include meats, poultry, fish, dark green leafy vegetables, beans, dried fruits, potatoes (with skin), egg yolks, and seeds, such as sunflower or pumpkin.
You can prevent IDA by making sure your child is eating a well-balanced diet. For younger children, follow these suggestions:
• Do not give your baby cow's milk until he or she is more than a year old, and limit it to no more than 32 ounces a day.
• If your child is breast-fed, give him foods with added iron, such as cereal, when you begin feeding him solid foods.
• If you formula-feed your baby, give him formula with added iron.
For more information, visit www.RileyHospital.org.
Dr. Manjusha Kumar, Pediatric Hematologist/Oncologist, Riley Hospital for Children