Parents, is Low Iron Holding Your Child Back?
Grace Weatherby
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2024

Parents, is Low Iron Holding Your Child Back?

Affecting 20% of U.S. children between the ages of 0 to 4, and nearly 6% of those between the ages of 5 and 14, anemia is the most common pediatric blood disorder. The result of having a low level of red blood cells or hemoglobin—a protein that allows red blood cells to carry oxygen to other parts of the body—anemia can delay growth and development in children. The good news is it’s generally easy to treat. The first step is recognizing the signs and symptoms.

The most common signs of anemia in children include:

- Lack of energy, or tiring easily

- Pale skin or lips

- Irritability

- Tires quickly when playing or exercising

- Fatigue and frequent napping

- Mild weakness

- Yellowing of the skin or eyes

- Dark tea- or cola-colored urine

In severe cases, symptoms may also include:

- Headache

- Dizziness, especially when standing 

- Shortness of breath

- Increased heart rate

- Absent or delayed menstruation

- Irregular menstrual cycles

- Enlarged spleen or liver

- Slow or delayed growth and development 

- Poor wound and tissue healing

There are many types of anemia; some you’re born with while others are the result of medical conditions, poor nutrition, blood loss, and even medications.

Regardless of the cause, most anemia is diagnosed through one of three blood tests including:

Hemoglobin and hematocrit: measures the amount of hemoglobin and red blood cells in the blood

Complete blood count: checks the levels of red and white blood cells, blood-clotting cells, and sometimes young red blood cells

Peripheral smear: involves looking at a small sample of blood under a microscope to see if the blood cells look normal

The findings of the blood tests will determine the most appropriate treatment option. In some cases, your pediatrician may refer you to a hematologist who specializes in blood disorders to further explore the cause of your child’s condition.

The most common treatment options for anemia in kids include:

- Iron supplements

- Vitamin and mineral drops or pills

- Discontinuation of medicines that deplete iron

- Dietary changes to increase iron intake

- Medication to boost red cell production

Depending upon the severity of your child’s condition, it may take several weeks or even months for your child’s red blood cell and energy levels to return to normal.

If you suspect you child may have anemia, schedule an appointment with their doctor. Even mild cases of anemia can impact your child’s ability to focus and exercise. Untreated, anemia can lead to development delays and even permanent impairments.

Iron-Rich Foods for Kids
In many cases, anemia in children can be prevented or addressed by including iron-rich foods as a regular part of their diet. Iron-rich, kid-friendly foods include:
Lean meats
Iron-enriched cereals
Green peas


Jaclyn Lozier, MD is pediatrician with SVMC Pediatrics based on the campus of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.


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