What is Iron Deficiency Anemia? Symptoms, Treatments and More

As a parent, one of the most important things you do is manage the food your children eat. You know how important it is to provide them with lots of healthy food that will provide all the nutrients they’ll need to grow up healthy.

Why is Iron Essential?

One of the essential nutrients you need to ensure your child consumes is iron. Iron allows red blood cells to carry oxygen to all the muscles and tissues of the body, so it’s a critical component of healthy growth.

If your child does not get enough iron in their diet, they could be in for some serious consequences.

Every parent should be aware of iron deficiency. Catching this issue early on can make it much easier to handle. So, make sure you understand all the risk factors, symptoms, and steps to take if your child becomes iron deficient.

What is Iron Deficiency Anemia?

As we mentioned earlier, iron is a mineral that your body uses to transport oxygen in red blood cells. All the iron in our bodies comes from the outside, so we must continually replenish our supply by consuming iron in the food or supplements we eat.

Iron deficiency anemia happens when the body doesn’t receive enough iron, which is needed to make hemoglobin. The important factor in this equation is that hemoglobin transports oxygen to all the tissues of the body. What a fantastic little protein! 

Low hemoglobin is the reason why many symptoms of iron deficiency anemia reflect poor oxygen circulation in the body.

What Causes Iron Deficiency?

There are two main reasons a person might become iron deficient. Either 1) they are not consuming enough iron in their diet, or 2) something is preventing the iron they consume from being fully absorbed into the blood. 

A handful of nutrients, including calcium, tannins, and phytates in legumes, can slow down the rate of absorption of iron.

Iron deficiency is less common today because so many of our cereals and foods are iron-fortified, but it does still affect about 24% of people at some point in their life. 

That number is higher for younger children, who can be more prone to iron deficiency for a few reasons we’ll discuss later.

What Are the Symptoms of Iron Deficiency?

When a person, adult or child, becomes iron deficient, they will exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Pale skin
  • Cold skin
  • Brittle fingernails
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble staying warm
  • Headaches
  • Increased risk of infection

If you notice any of these symptoms in your child, or yourself, you should see a doctor right away. Your doctor may want to draw some blood to test the iron levels and determine if this is a case of deficiency.

How Do You Prevent Iron Deficiency?

Dealing with iron deficiency begins with managing the child’s diet to ensure it contains all the iron they’ll need. Learn as much as you can about the iron content of the food your child consumes, especially your young children. 

You want to make sure toddlers get 11 mg of iron in their first two years, then gradually increase the amount as they grow.

What Increases Your Child’s Risk?

It is especially important to understand whether your child carries any of the risk factors for iron deficiency. These include:

  • Being born preterm
  • Having a mother who is diabetic or severely anemic
  • A vegan or vegetarian diet that is low in iron
  • Restricted diet

Additionally, acute or chronic blood loss can bring about anemia symptoms in some children and adults. If your child has either a condition or a specific issue that causes blood loss, your doctor likely already has a plan in place to help manage the symptoms!

If your child has any of these risk factors, that means you might need to work harder to ensure their iron levels stay consistent. Your doctor might also want to screen them more frequently to monitor iron levels.

How to Monitor for Iron Deficiency?

All children should undergo a universal anemia screening at 12 months to make sure their iron levels are healthy. To do this, your doctor will draw some blood and then run tests on the hemoglobin to measure iron levels.

This screening may uncover anemia or might indicate that your child is doing great and should be screened again at a later date.

What Do You Do With a New Diagnosis of Anemia?

If your doctor diagnosis your child with anemia, your doctor will work with you to come up with a plan to resolve the problem. In some less severe cases, the pediatrician may recommend to increase the amount of iron in your child’s diet or to remove some foods that prevent iron absorption. 

If you come up with such a plan, it’s essential to stick to the program and that your little one continues to go back for regular screenings to monitor their progress.

In most anemia cases, the treatment will involve taking an iron supplement. Your child will likely take iron in the form of a pill or liquid. It will be consumed on a regular schedule along with a drink that contains vitamin C. Vitamin C will help improve the absorption of iron and lead to a higher iron level overall. 

These supplements may cause some mild side effects, like stained teeth, nausea, or constipation. However, the benefits will outweigh the side effects of the treatment.

How Do You Know if Your Child’s Anemia is Resolved?

Again, your doctor will want to test your child consistently to see how the treatment is working. They’ll want to observe the iron levels rise sharply at the start of treatment and remain at a healthy level for an extended period.

Depending on the reason your child becomes anemic, you may need to stick with the supplement for a short or longer time. Be sure to talk with your doctor and stick with whatever plan you settle on.

Quick Answer

As we mentioned earlier, iron is a mineral that helps make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin transports oxygen in red blood cells to all the tissues of the body. Iron is not made in the body and must be part of your little one’s diet. 

Make sure your child has a diet rich in iron, and take them to their pediatrician if you notice any signs of anemia. Understanding iron deficiency anemia, symptoms for early detection, and treatments may help ease your mind and come up with a prevention plan.