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Anemia and Iron-Deficiency Anemia

What is anemia? 

Anemia occurs when your body has fewer healthy red blood cells than normal. Red blood cells carry oxygen to your organs.  

What is anemia

Anemia occurs when the body has fewer red blood cells than normal.

What is iron-deficiency anemia? 

Iron-deficiency anemia happens when your body has low levels of a nutrient called iron. The body uses iron to make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is what carries oxygen to body organs. 

Causes of iron-deficiency anemia 

The main cause of iron-deficiency anemia is not getting enough iron from the foods you eat. 

Other causes can include bleeding or having an illness that makes it hard for your body to absorb iron.  

Symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia 

Signs and symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia include: 

  •     Pale skin or pale color inside the lower eyelids 
  •     Thin, brittle fingernails 
  •     Less energy than normal 
  •     Weakness 
  •     Feeling dizzy or lightheaded 
  •     Fast or irregular heartbeat 
  •     Shortness of breath 
  •     Headaches 
  •     Difficulty concentrating 
  •     Chest pain 
  •     Cold hands and feet 
  •     Enlarged spleen 
  •     Problems growing and developing normally 


Another sign of iron deficiency anemia is called pica. Pica is eating things that are not food. These can include ice, chalk, dirt, clay, starch, tissue paper, and even house materials such as carpet and drywall. You should not let your child eat anything that is not food. Tell your doctor or nurse if you think your child has pica. 

Diagnosis of iron deficiency anemia 

Diagnosis may be made by conducting a physical exam and taking a medical history. To be sure the diagnosis is correct, blood tests will be done. One of the blood tests may be a complete blood count (CBC). This will check the number of red blood cells in your blood (cell count), the amount of hemoglobin in your blood, the amount of space the red blood cells ls take up in the blood, and the average size of the red blood cells (Mean corpuscular volume or MCV). 

Treatment of iron deficiency anemia  

Treatment depends on what is causing your child’s anemia and how seriously it affects them. 

Treatment may include:  

  • Eating foods with a lot of iron. Good sources of iron include lean red meat, dark green leafy vegetables, dried beans, dried fruits, eggs, salmon, iron-fortified breads and cereals, peas, tofu, and dried fruits. 
  • Eating foods rich in vitamin C. Vitamin C can help your body better absorb iron. Good sources of vitamin C include oranges, strawberries, and tomatoes. 
  • Supplements of iron by mouth (vitamin B12, or folic acid) 
  • Intravenous infusion of Iron 
  • Blood transfusion 
  • Oxygen therapy  

Managing symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia 

Common symptoms include feeling tired, dizzy, and weak. The care team may suggest periods of rest and may talk to you about ways to prevent falls. These methods include: 

  • Sitting before standing 
  • Help with activities 
  • Decluttering areas to prevent tripping over things 

Giving your child iron medicine 

Your child may get iron medicine to take by mouth, such as a pill or liquid. Here are some tips to make the iron work well and prevent side effects: 

  • Give your child the iron when their stomach is empty. Do not give them food at the same time as the iron. You can give the iron before a meal or at bedtime. 
  • Give the iron with some orange juice. The vitamin C in orange juice helps your child’s body absorb iron. If your child does not like orange juice, try apple, mango, or pineapple juice. 
  • Avoid giving iron medicine after a meal. Your child’s body absorbs iron best when the stomach is empty. Also, many foods contain calcium. Calcium keeps the body from absorbing iron. 

Taking iron by mouth can cause your child to have darker bowel movements. Your child might also have constipation. This means bowel movements are harder and more difficult. You can give your child medicine to keep bowel movements normal and soft. Talk to your doctor or nurse. 

Key Points

  • Anemia occurs when your body has fewer healthy red blood cells than normal. 
  • Iron deficiency anemia happens when your body has low levels of a nutrient called iron. 
  • Diagnosis of iron deficiency is confirmed by a lab test called a complete blood count (CBC). 

Reviewed: September 2022