Iron-Deficiency Anemia (Child)

Iron is an important mineral that helps build red blood cells and hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein found in red blood cells. It carries oxygen all over your child’s body. With low supplies of iron, the body can’t make enough red blood cells. And the red blood cells it does make don’t have enough hemoglobin to carry the normal amount of oxygen the body needs. This condition is called iron-deficiency anemia.

Iron-deficiency anemia often develops slowly. At first, children with anemia don’t have symptoms. Overt time, they become tired and fussy. They can be dizzy. Their skin and lips can be pale. Their nails can be brittle. They can develop a sore mouth and tongue. Severe iron-deficiency anemia can cause shortness of breath, chest pains, and infections. Untreated anemia can slow the child’s growth rate.

An iron deficiency is most often caused by a diet low in iron. Drinking too much cow’s milk can keep your child from absorbing iron. Disorders like celiac disease can also keep your child from absorbing iron. A condition called pica is also linked to iron-deficiency anemia. It involves wanting to eat nonfood items like ice, soil, or paper. These things have no nutritional value.

Iron-deficiency anemia is treated with iron supplements and a diet rich in iron. With enough iron, this type of anemia is quickly reversed. In severe cases, your child may need a blood transfusion.

Home care

Follow these guidelines when caring for your child at home:

  • The healthcare provider may prescribe an iron supplement for several months. Follow the provider’s instructions for giving this medicine to your child. Too much iron can be harmful. Keep all iron supplements stored safely away from children.

  • Let your child rest as needed.

  • Make sure your child eats a balanced diet with plenty of iron-rich foods. These include meats, fish, poultry, eggs, peas, beans, peanut butter, whole-grain bread, and raisins. In addition, acidic foods rich in vitamin C help to absorb iron. This includes citrus fruits.

  • Talk with your child’s provider if your child refuses to eat a balanced diet. Ask to see a nutritionist for information and guidance.

  • Tell your child’s caregivers and school staff of their condition.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to get medical advice

Call your child's healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Tiredness, paleness, or other symptoms that don’t get better

  • Blood in stool

  • Your child won't eat or has trouble eating

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