How to Deal with Your Child's Anemia

Two Parts:Caring for Your Anemic ChildGetting Medical Care for Your Child

If you suspect your child has anemia, get a proper diagnosis from a doctor before you begin treatment. Anemia can be temporary or chronic, mild or life-threatening. It has many causes, and treatment depends on cause. Once your child has been diagnosed, there are many steps you can take to restore iron to her system, prevent complications, and provide her with safety and fun.

Part 1
Caring for Your Anemic Child

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    Feed your child iron-rich food. Consult your pediatrician to figure out how much iron-rich food to feed your child. Unless your child is a vegetarian, prepare meals of red meat, dark poultry meat, tuna, and salmon. Tofu and eggs are high in iron, and are both extremely versatile ingredients. Enriched grains, dried beans and peas, and fortified breakfast cereals will give your child iron.[1]
    • Tomatoes, leafy green vegetables, yellow vegetables, and potatoes with the skin on all provide iron.
    • Feed your child dried fruits, such as raisins (if he is over four so as not to be a choking risk), and sweeten food with blackstrap molasses.
    • Do not give your child an iron supplement unless the doctor prescribes one.
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    Reduce cow's milk intake. Cow's milk interferes with iron absorption and can cause mild internal bleeding in toddlers. Breast milk has plenty of iron, especially if you are taking prenatal vitamins. If you are using a formula, use iron-fortified formula. Limit the cow's milk in your child's diet to less than 24–32 ounces per day. Don't give cow's milk to babies under one year old.[2][3]
    • Prepare iron-rich non-dairy treats. For example, if your child loves pudding, make a silk-tofu chocolate pudding.
    • If your child loves creamy desserts, try using eggs instead. Make a meringue and custard dessert, such as a pie or a floating island.
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    Give your child orange juice, not iced tea. Drinking coffee or tea with a meal will inhibit your child's iron uptake. Vitamin C can increase iron uptake, so offer a glass of orange juice instead. Give your child iron-fortified beverages or green juices for a change of pace.[4]
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    Limit physical activity. Your child may tire more easily than other children. Keep an eye out during playdates, and redirect frenetic activities if you notice your child is showing signs of fatigue. Inform your child's teacher, school nurse, and gym or Physical Education teacher about your child's condition. Let all caregivers and the parents of your child's friends know as well.
    • Keep art supplies, books, and games on hand so your child can entertain her friends without overexertion.
    • If your child is seriously unable to keep up during gym class, talk to the school principal about alternative instruction during that period.
    • If your child's spleen is enlarged, do not allow him or her to participate in contact sports.
    • Children who exercise regularly may need extra sources of iron, as they may lose some iron through sweat.[5]
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    Pack your child's lunch. Unless you can depend on your child's school providing iron-rich, low-dairy meals, pack lunch for your child. If your child's school does provide meals that satisfy your child's dietary needs, you might still want to pack iron-rich snacks, such as raisins. When your child is old enough, she can pack her own lunch. Involve your child in food preparation early on, to help your child feel excited by healthy eating rather than burdened by medical chores.

Part 2
Getting Medical Care for Your Child

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    Know the signs and symptoms of anemia. Some children with mild anemia may have no symptoms, but common symptoms of moderate or severe anemia include:[6]
    • Pale skin and lips
    • Fatigue, weakness, irritability
    • Light-headedness or dizziness
    • Rapid heartbeat.
    • Some children with anemia may also have jaundice, an enlarged spleen, or developmental or behavioral problems.
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    Get a proper diagnosis. Anemia can be temporary or chronic, and can stem from a wide range of causes. Bring your child to a doctor before you begin treating him at home. Although iron deficiency is a common cause of anemia, it is far from the only one. Some forms of anemia can endanger your child's life if left undiagnosed.[7]
    • Anemia can indicate serious underlying conditions that might need immediate attention.
    • Your child's doctor will give your child a physical exam. The doctor will listen to your child's heart and lungs. She may also feel the abdomen for signs of enlarged liver or spleen.[8]
    • Prepare your child for needles. Your child's blood will be drawn.
    • The blood sample will be tested for its complete blood count (CBC), the level of red blood cells and hemoglobin in your child's blood. Your doctor may check iron levels and iron stores in your child's blood. A test for lead is often done as well.
    • The size and shape of your child's blood cells will be tested. Iron deficiency anemia causes the red blood cells to grow small and pale, while sickle cell anemia causes misshapen blood cells.
    • Your child's doctor might do follow up exams to test for internal bleeding or even bone marrow irregularities.
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    Administer medication. If your child has iron deficiency anemia, the pediatrician is likely to prescribe a medicine that rebuilds the body's store of iron. Administer drops if your child is an infant, or liquid or tablets if your child is older, for up to three months. If your child has vitamin deficiency anemia, you may be limited to administering folic acid and vitamin B supplements.[9]
    • If your adolescent child has anemia caused by heavy or irregular menstruation, the doctor may prescribe hormonal treatment such as birth control pills.
    • If the anemia is caused by infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
    • If your child's body does not produce enough blood cells, she might be given medication that stimulates the bone marrow.
    • If your child has sickle-cell anemia, she may need to be given penicillin twice daily to guard against infections.[10] In addition, children with sickle-cell anemia require close monitoring and often other treatments including folic acid supplements.
    • If your child's current medications have been found to cause anemia, you may have to develop a new treatment plan with your doctor.
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    Do not administer supplements on your own. Unless your doctor has prescribed iron or vitamin supplements to your child, do not administer them. Do not give your child more iron supplements than prescribed. Iron can be toxic if your child takes too much of it.[11]
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    Ask about blood transfusions. Children with severe or chronic anemia might require regular blood transfusions. If your child has sickle cell, aplastic, or hemolytic anemia, ask the doctor about blood transfusions. Blood can come from a bank, or from a non-anemic family member or friend. This person's blood will have to be screened before donations can begin.[12]
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    Ask about bone marrow transplants. If your child has sickle cell anemia, aplastic anemia, or thalassemia, your doctor may recommend bone marrow transplantation. For bone marrow transplantation, bone marrow cells from a donor are injected into your child's vein. The cells travel from your child's bloodstream to his bone marrow, and produce new cells once they have arrived.[13]
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    Ask about surgery. If your child has an iron deficiency, she may have internal bleeding which could require surgery to stop. If your child has thalassemia or hemolytic anemia, it may be helpful to remove her spleen. This is not always the case, but in severe cases your doctor may recommend it.[14]

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Categories: Conditions and Treatments | Childhood Health