About Iron Deficiency Anaemia: The body needs iron to make haemoglobin. If there isn’t enough iron available, haemoglobin production is limited, which in turns affects the production of red blood cells (RBCs). A decreased amount of haemoglobin and RBCs in the bloodstream is known as anaemia. As RBCs are needed to carry oxygen throughout the body, anaemia results in less oxygen reaching the cells and tissues, affecting their function.
Iron-deficiency anaemia (IDA), often caused by insufficient iron intake is the major cause of anaemia in childhood.
Iron-deficiency anaemia doesn’t develop immediately. Instead, a person progresses through stages of iron deficiency, beginning with iron depletion, in which the amount of iron in the body is reduced while the iron in RBCs remains constant. If iron depletion isn’t corrected, it progresses to iron deficiency, eventually leading to IDA.
Causes of IDA: Iron-deficiency anaemia can be the consequence of several factors, including:
- insufficient iron in the diet
- poor absorption of iron by the body
- ongoing blood loss, most commonly from menstruation or from gradual blood loss in the intestinal tract
- periods of rapid growth
A diet low in iron is the most common cause of IDA in infants, toddlers and teens. Children who don’t eat enough or who eat foods that are poor sources of iron are at risk for developing this condition. Poverty is a contributing factor to IDA because families living at or below the poverty level may not be getting enough iron-rich foods.
Children are at higher risk for IDA in periods of rapid growth because they may not be getting enough iron in their diet to make up for the increased needs.
In infants, discontinuing iron-fortified formula and introducing cow’s milk before 12 months can lead to IDA.
Symptoms: Many children with iron deficiency don’t show any symptoms at first because the body’s iron stores are depleted slowly. As the anaemia progresses, you may recognize some of the following symptoms in your child:
- fatigue and weakness
- pale skin and mucous membranes
- rapid heartbeat
- decreased appetite
- dizziness or a feeling of being lightheaded
Rarely, a person with IDA may experience Pica; a craving to eat non-food items such as paint chips, chalk, or dirt. Pica may be caused by a lack of iron in the diet.
Laboratory Tests: It’s recommended that iron deficiency should be first confirmed by lab tests before starting any iron supplements.
Blood tests will include:
- Complete Blood Count
- Serum ferritin
In most cases, IDA is preventable by following basic recommendations:
- Infants, younger than 1 year old, should drink only breast milk or an infant formula supplemented with iron. It is important for breastfed infants to receive iron rich solid foods starting at about 6 months of age.
- Toddlers, under the age of 2, should have no more than 24 ounces of cow’s milk a day. As noted earlier, milk can inhibit absorption of iron, and drinking too much milk can dampen a child’s appetite for other iron-rich foods. In addition, too much cow’s milk has been shown to irritate the gastrointestinal tract, which may cause intestinal bleeding — a cause of iron loss.
- Iron-fortified products such as cereals can be a great way to supply more iron to the children — especially those under 2 years old.
- A variety of foods can be great sources of iron: lean meats; fish; egg yolks; broccoli, spinach, and other green leafy vegetables; peas and beans; raisins; dates and whole-grain bread. Keeping that in mind, children should be given iron enriched balanced diet.