- Parents Home
- Allergy Center
- Asthma Center
- Cancer Center
- Diabetes Center
- Emotions & Behavior
- First Aid & Safety
- Food Allergy Center
- General Health
- Growth & Development
- Flu Center
- Heart Health
- Helping With Homework
- Diseases & Conditions
- Nutrition & Fitness Center
- Play & Learn Center
- School & Family Life
- Pregnancy & Newborn Center
- Sports Medicine Center
- Doctors & Hospitals
- Para Padres
- Kids Home
- Asthma Center for Kids
- Cancer Center for Kids
- Movies & More
- Diabetes Center for Kids
- Getting Help
- Puberty & Growing Up
- Health Problems of Grown-Ups
- Health Problems
- Homework Center
- How the Body Works
- Illnesses & Injuries
- Nutrition & Fitness Center for Kids
- Recipes & Cooking for Kids
- Staying Healthy
- Stay Safe Center
- Relax & Unwind Center
- Q&A for Kids
- The Heart
- Videos for Kids
- Staying Safe
- Kids' Medical Dictionary
- Para Niños
- Teens Home
- Asthma Center for Teens
- Be Your Best Self
- Cancer Center for Teens
- Diabetes Center for Teens
- Diseases & Conditions (for Teens)
- Drugs & Alcohol
- Expert Answers (Q&A)
- Flu Center for Teens
- Homework Help for Teens
- Infections (for Teens)
- Managing Your Medical Care
- Managing Your Weight
- Nutrition & Fitness Center for Teens
- Recipes for Teens
- Safety & First Aid
- School & Work
- Sports Center
- Stress & Coping Center
- Videos for Teens
- Para Adolescentes
What Is Iron-Deficiency Anemia?
Iron-deficiency anemia is anemia that happens when there isn't enough iron in the body.
Someone with anemia has a lower number of red blood cells (RBCs) than usual. RBCs contain hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen throughout the body. The body needs iron to make hemoglobin (HEE-muh-glow-bin). Without enough iron, less hemoglobin and fewer red blood cells are made, leading to anemia.
Treatment with iron supplements usually makes the anemia better.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Iron-Deficiency Anemia?
At first, children with iron-deficiency anemia may not have any symptoms. When symptoms do happen, a child might:
- look pale
- seem moody
- be very tired
- get tired quickly from exercise
- feel dizzy or lightheaded
- have a fast heartbeat
- have developmental delays and behavioral problems
- want to eat ice or non-food items (called pica)
What Causes Iron-Deficiency Anemia?
Iron-deficiency anemia can happen when:
- There's a problem with how the body absorbs iron (such as in celiac disease).
- Someone has blood loss from an injury, heavy menstrual periods, or bleeding inside the intestines.
- Someone doesn't get enough iron in the diet. This can happen in:
- children who drink too much cow's milk, and babies given cow's milk before they're 1 year old
- vegetarians because they don't eat meat, a source of iron
- breastfed babies who don't get iron supplements
- babies given formula with low iron
- babies who were born early or small who may need more iron than formula or breast milk contains
How Is Iron-Deficiency Anemia Diagnosed?
Doctors usually can diagnose iron-deficiency anemia by:
- asking questions about symptoms
- asking about the diet
- finding out about the patient's
- doing a physical exam
- doing blood tests to:
- look at the red blood cells with a microscope
- check the amount of hemoglobin and iron in the blood
- check how fast new RBCs are being made
- do other blood tests to rule out other types of anemia
How Is Iron-Deficiency Anemia Treated?
Doctors treat iron-deficiency anemia with iron supplements taken as a liquid or pill for at least 3 months. To help iron get absorbed into the body:
- Avoid taking iron with antacids, milk, or tea because these interfere with the body's ability to absorb iron.
- Take iron before eating (unless this causes an upset stomach).
Someone whose anemia is very severe may get iron or a blood transfusion through an IV (intravenous) line.
When iron-deficiency anemia is caused by something other than a lack of iron in the diet, treatment also may include:
- treatments to reduce bleeding in heavy menstrual periods
- reducing the amount of cow's milk in the diet
- treating an underlying disease
How Can Parents Help?
If your child has iron-deficiency anemia:
- Make sure your child takes the iron supplements exactly as prescribed.
- Include iron-rich foods in the family's diet. Good sources of iron include:
- iron-fortified cereals
- lean meat, poultry, and fish
- egg yolks
- Serve fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C or a glass of orange juice at mealtimes. This helps the iron get absorbed.
- Talk to a dietitian or your doctor if your child is a vegetarian. They can recommend foods to help your child get enough iron.
To help prevent iron-deficiency anemia in young children:
- Don't give cow's milk to babies under 1 year old.
- Limit cow's milk in kids over 1 year old to less than 2 cups of milk a day. Giving them more can make them feel full and lower the amount of iron-rich foods they eat.
- Vegetarian Diets
- Alpha Thalassemia
- Pregnant or Breastfeeding? Nutrients You Need
- Formula Feeding FAQs: Getting Started
- Blood Test: Ferritin (Iron)
- Beta Thalassemia
- Breastfeeding FAQs: How Much and How Often
- Blood Test: Hemoglobin
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995- KidsHealth® All rights reserved.
Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.