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Iron Deficiency Anemia

  • Iron deficiency anemia is a common blood disorder that occurs when red blood cell counts are low due to a lack of iron. Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia in otherwise healthy children in the United States.

    • Children with iron deficiency anemia may tire easily, have pale skin and lips and have a fast heartbeat.
    • Iron deficiency anemia is usually discovered by a blood test during a routine medical examination.
    • Iron deficiency anemia is treated by consuming an iron-rich diet or taking oral iron supplements.

    Patients with iron deficiency anemia are treated through Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, an integrated pediatric hematology and oncology partnership between Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Boston Children’s Hospital.

     

    Dana-Farber/Boston Children's

    300 Longwood Avenue
    Boston MA 02115

    617-355-8246 x2

  • What is iron deficiency anemia? 

    Iron deficiency anemia is a common blood disorder that occurs when red blood cell counts are low due to a lack of iron. Red blood cells need iron to produce a protein called hemoglobin that helps them carry oxygen from the lungs to all the parts of the body.

    What causes iron deficiency anemia?

    Iron deficiency anemia can be caused by: 

    • Diets low in iron: Only 1 mg of iron is absorbed for every 10 to 20 mg of iron-rich food ingested.
    • Body changes: Body changes, such as growth spurts in children and adolescents, require increased iron and red blood cell production.
    • Gastrointestinal tract abnormalities: Any abnormality in the digestive tract limits iron absorption.Difficulty absorbing iron is common after some gastrointestinal surgeries.
    • Blood loss: Blood loss, such as gastrointestinal bleeding or injury, can decrease the amount of iron in a child’s body.

    Is iron deficiency anemia common?

    Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia in otherwise healthy children.

    What are the symptoms of iron deficiency anemia?

    The most common symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include:

    • pale skin, lips, and hands, or paleness under the eyelids
    • irritability
    • lack of energy or tiring easily
    • increased heart rate
    • sore or swollen tongue
    • enlarged spleena desire to eat peculiar substances, such as dirt or ice (also called pica)
  • How does a doctor know that it’s iron deficiency anemia?

    Iron deficiency anemia may be suspected based on general findings from a complete medical history and physical examination, such as:

    • complaints of tiring easily
    • pale skin and lips
    • fast heartbeat

    Iron deficiency anemia is usually discovered during a medical examination through a complete blood count, which measures the number of red blood cells and their concentration of hemoglobin. Additional tests may include:

    • different blood tests
    • full bone marrow exam in which samples of the fluid (aspiration) and solid (biopsy) portions of bone marrow are withdrawn with a needle under local anesthesia
  • Treatment for iron deficiency anemia may include:

    • Iron-rich diet:
    • consuming foods that are rich in iron (see chart below)
    • Iron supplement:
    • Taking an oral iron supplement over several months to increase iron levels in blood.
    • should be taken on an empty stomach or with orange juice to increase absorptions
    • can irritate the stomach and discolor bowel movements

    Iron-Rich Foods

    Quantity

    Approximate
    Iron Content
    (milligrams)

    Oysters

    3 ounces

    13.2

    Beef liver

    3 ounces

    7.5

    Prune Juice

    1/2 cup

    5.2

    Clams

    2 ounces

    4.2

    Walnuts

    1/2 cup

    3.75

    Ground beef

    3 ounces

    3.0

    Chickpeas

    1/2 cup

    3.0

    Bran flakes

    1/2 cup

    2.8

    Pork roast

    3 ounces

    2.7

    Cashew nuts

    1/2 cup

    2.65

    Shrimp

    3 ounces

    2.6

    Raisins

    1/2 cup

    2.55

    Sardines

    3 ounces

    2.5

    Spinach

    1/2 cup

    2.4

    Lima beans

    1/2 cup

    2.3

    Kidney beans

    1/2 cup

    2.2

    Turkey, dark meat

    3 ounces

    2.0

    Prunes

    1/2 cup

    1.9

    Roast beef

    3 ounces

    1.8

    Green Peas

    1/2 cup

    1.5

    Peanuts

    1/2 cup

    1.5

    Potato

    1

    1.1

    Sweet potato

    1/2 cup

    1.0

    Green beans

    1/2 cup

    1.0

    Egg

    1

    1.0

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