What is anemia in children?

Anemia is a condition that around 20% of children will be impacted by during their childhood. This happens when there are not enough red blood cells or hemoglobin throughout the body.

Hemoglobin is a protein that red blood cells carry and it provides an essential function - delivering oxygen to our body’s organs.

What are the different types of anemia?

The most common kind of anemia found in pediatric patients is iron deficiency anemia. This occurs when there isn’t enough iron in the blood.

There are many other types of anemia in children.

  • Hemolytic anemia: Occurs when red blood cells are destroyed, typically due to serious infection, an antibody (autoimmune hemolytic anemia) or certain medications.
  • Sickle cell anemia: An inherited hemolytic anemia that involves abnormal hemoglobin which causes red blood cells to have a crescent-shape.
  • Thalassemia: Another inherited blood disorder where the child has less hemoglobin than needed and may need to have regular blood transfusions
  • Aplastic anemia: When the child’s bone marrow stops making red blood cells due to an illness or infection.
  • Diamond Blackfan anemia: an inherited form of severe anemia where the body cannot make red blood cells normally, usually diagnosed in the first year of life.
  • Megaloblastic anemia: When the red blood cells are too large and not fully developed.

What are the risk factors for anemia in children?

A family history of inherited anemia, such as sickle cell anemia or sickle cell trait, can increase chances that your child may develop it.

Other factors include:

  • Babies who were born premature or at a low birth weight
  • Drinking too much cow’s milk at an early age
  • A diet missing the recommended level of iron, vitamins and minerals
  • A serious infection or illness
  • Surgery or injury that leads to blood loss
  • Kidney disease

What are the symptoms of anemia?

Symptoms for childhood anemia can include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Paleness of the skin, lips, palms or lining of the eyelids (conjunctivae)
  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Breathing trouble or shortness of breath
  • Dizziness and headaches
  • Irritability
  • Yellowing eyes, skin, and mouth (jaundice)
  • Stunted growth and development

If your child has mild anemia, they may not experience some or any of these symptoms. It is important to communicate early and often with your child’s doctor since anemia could indicate that your child may have another disease.

How is childhood anemia diagnosed and treated?

Your child’s doctor will often do routine screenings to check for anemia, such as hemoglobin, hematocrit or a complete blood count. Further diagnostic blood tests may be done to gather additional information such as a serum iron, total iron binding capacity, ferritin, hemoglobin evaluation and peripheral blood smear.

After evaluating these results, your child’s doctor will be able to give you a better treatment plan if they do have anemia. Treatment varies greatly depending on symptoms and medical history. It’s possible that your child will:

  • Take vitamin or mineral pills.
  • Change their diet or medications.
  • Require blood transfusion or surgery.
  • Undergo stem cell transplantation.
  • Get referred to a pediatric hematologist.

Why choose UChicago Medicine for treating your child’s anemia?

  • A multi-disciplinary approach: Our diverse team of experts work together to provide your child with personalized care throughout the process.
  • Innovative therapies: Researchers at Comer Children’s work hard to discover treatment methods and new protocols to ensure that your child is getting outstanding care.

Request an Appointment

The information you provide will enable us to assist you as efficiently as possible. A representative will contact you within one to two business days to help you schedule an appointment.

To speak to someone directly, please call 773-702-6808. If you have symptoms of an urgent nature, please call your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately.

For Referring Physicians

To refer a pediatric patient, please call UCM Physician Connect at 1-800-824-2282

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Pediatric Blood Disorders