Anaemia In Children: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Are you a parent of a preschool child? Here’s what you should know about childhood anaemia, a condition that affects 89 million children in India.

By Shirley Johanna

Anaemia In Children: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Five-year-old Anamika, an active child, loves playing with her friends and participating in school activities. So, when the girl started showing signs of fatigue and irritability, her mother, Ritu was worried. She took Anamika to a paediatrician, who diagnosed that she was suffering from nutritional anaemia, a condition  common among children under the age of five. After a thorough check-up, he assured Ritu that with the right diet and treatment, Anamika would soon get better.  

Are you also a parent of a preschooler? Have you noticed symptoms of tiredness, shortness of breath and dizziness in your child? Then read on to know more about anaemia, a condition that affects 47.4 per cent of children worldwide. 

What is anaemia?

Anaemia is a condition in which the blood haemoglobin is low due to a deficiency of one or several nutrients. Iron, folic acid and vitamin B12 are the three main nutrients involved in the synthesis of haemoglobin. Deficiency of any of these three nutrients can cause anaemia. However, iron deficiency is the most common cause of anaemia worldwide.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), globally, 1.62 billion people suffer from anaemia. The highest prevalence of anaemia (47.4 per cent) is among children under the age of five years; of these, a staggering 89 million children live in India.

Preschool children are more vulnerable to anaemia because, in this age group, the body grows rapidly and requires a nutritionally balanced diet. If your child's diet lacks iron, she may be at risk of becoming anaemic. 

Children aged 6-59 months with haemoglobin levels <11 g/dL are anaemic. In children, anaemia severely affects cognitive performance and impacts language skills, motor skills and coordination. Anaemia also has an impact on the immune system and increases the chances of infections and inflammatory diseases.

Causes

Anaemia in children can be caused due to loss of red blood cells, the body's inability to produce red blood cells and destruction of red blood cells. Other common causes of anaemia are infections, diseases and certain medications.

A diet that is deficient in iron, folic acid and vitamin B12 can cause anaemia in children.

Symptoms

Anaemia develops over time. The child starts to show symptoms when the amount of iron in the body is depleted. 

The signs and symptoms of anaemia are:

  • Pale skin
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Irritability
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite 

Treatment for anaemia

In most cases, treatment for anaemia depends on the cause.

Iron deficiency anaemia: For children with iron deficiency anaemia, the paediatrician may prescribe iron supplements that should be taken for a minimum of three months to restore the depleted store of iron in the body. A nutritionist may also recommend a special diet comprising iron-rich foods. 

Folic acid and vitamin B12 deficiency: Anaemia due to the lack of these two nutrients can be treated with folic acid and vitamin B12 supplements. However, this is rare in children.

Inherited blood disorders: In children with inherited blood disorders like sickle cell anaemia, thalassemia, and aplastic anaemia, bone marrow transplantation may be recommended.

Anaemia caused by a worm infection will usually improve when the infection is treated. If certain medications appear to be the cause for anaemia, doctors may recommend discontinuing the medicine or replacing it with an alternative.

Ways to prevent anaemia

Anaemia caused due to deficiency of iron, folic acid and vitamin B12 can be prevented by ensuring that your child eats a well-balanced diet, which has all the nutrients necessary for the child's growth and development. Talk to your child’s paediatrician to know whether your little one requires any supplements to prevent anaemia.

Other ways to prevent nutritional anaemia:

  • Avoid giving cow’s milk to your baby until she is a year old. Cow’s milk may cause blood loss and decrease absorption of iron.
  • If prefer to give infant formula to your baby, ensure that the formula contains added iron.
  • For older children, make sure they eat iron-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables like spinach, egg yolks, lean meat, iron-fortified cereals, beans, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds.
  • To increase iron absorption, ensure your child consumes foods rich in vitamin C like citrus fruits.

It is important to detect and treat anaemia early in children, as the condition can affect the child’s growth and development. This condition can be prevented with appropriate and timely intervention. If your child starts to show symptoms of anaemia, consult a paediatrician immediately.  

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