Anemia | Diagnosis & Treatment

How is anemia diagnosed?

The first step in treating your child is forming an accurate and complete diagnosis. Anemia is usually discovered during a medical exam through simple blood tests that measure the concentration of hemoglobin and the number of red blood cells. Diagnostic procedures to determine the underlying cause of the anemia may include:

  • complete medical history and physical examination
  • measurement of hematocrit — the percent of red blood cells found in a specific volume of blood
  • hemoglobin electrophoresis to determine the amount and type of hemoglobin in the blood
  • additional blood tests
  • bone marrow aspiration and biopsy

There may be other diagnostic tests that your doctor will discuss with you depending on your child's individual situation. After we complete all necessary tests, our experts meet to review and discuss what they have learned about your child's condition. Then we will meet with you and your family to discuss the results and outline the best possible treatment options.

What are the treatments for anemia?

Depending on the specific cause of your child’s anemia, your child’s physician may recommend a variety of different treatments. Treatments for various forms of anemia may include:

  • vitamin and mineral supplements
  • change in your child's diet
  • medication and/or discontinuing causative medications
  • treatment of the underlying disorder
  • surgery to remove the spleen (if related to certain hemolytic anemias)
  • blood transfusions, if necessary (to replace significant loss)
  • antibiotics (as appropriate if infection is the cause)
  • stem cell transplant (for bone marrow failure, such as aplastic anemia, Fanconi anemia or Diamond-Blackfan anemia)

Our multidisciplinary team of doctors will help determine the best approach for your child's unique situation, based on a number of factors including age and overall health, severity of the disease, and tolerance for certain medications or therapies.

What is the long-term outlook for children with anemia?

The long-term outlook for children with anemia depends on the specific cause. Some forms of anemia, such as a nutritional deficiency, can be treated quickly and don’t require significant long-term follow-up care.

In other cases, in which the anemia is caused by a genetic condition or other serious underlying disorder, your child may need regular follow-up by our hematologists. Your child’s physician can discuss your child’s specific care plan.

We have a number of resources at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s to help you and your family through this time. From the first visit through follow-up care, our nurses will be on hand to walk you through your child’s treatment and help answer any questions you may have. If you’d like to talk with someone whose child has been treated for anemia, we can put you in touch with other families who have been through the same experience that you and your child are facing.