What is anemia?

Anemia is a decrease in the number of red blood cells. It is typically found in children between 6 months and 3 years of age, especially in children who have not received iron supplementation either through meals including iron-fortified foods or supplements prescribed by a pediatrician.

Typically, children in the first year of life experience rapid growth using their natural iron reserves. If their iron levels are not supplemented, children can suffer an iron deficit called anemia. Adolescents are also prone to suffer anemia due to rapid growth and the onset of menstruation.

Why does this occur?

Anemia is most frequently caused by a lack of iron. Other causes may include: infectious diseases, deficiencies in vitamin B12 or folic acid, poor nutrition and parasitic diseases. The consumption of whole cow’s milk or other animal milk in children under 1 year may result in protein enteropathy. This disease occurs if there is a regular output of red blood cells into the intestinal lumen which in time will develop into anemia.

This type of deficiency anemia affects all organs. The most critical consequence of iron deficiency, especially if it has reached the level of moderate anemia, is its effects on the intellectual development of children. School age children who have anemia have shown a decrease in their academic performance. This will improve with the correction of the deficiency. However in very young children, anemia can lead to a significant delay in maturity.

An iron deficiency in infancy can lead to alterations in IQ that can last a lifetime.

How is it diagnosed?

Anemia is often diagnosed by your family physician through either asking about nutrition and/or simple laboratory tests. Your physician will need to develop an in-depth dietary profile of your child including the types of food consumed, the history of breastfeeding, if they received iron supplements, the early intake of whole cow's milk and fortified infant formula, and the characteristics of the child’s ablactation period (first solid food that is given to the baby, etc.).

When should I suspect that my child has anemia?

Anemia can cause different symptoms according to its severity, but in most cases children have sensation of cold, pale skin and mucous membrane (more evident on hands and lips), fatigue, somnolence (excessive and deep sleep) , irritability, apathy, muscle weakness, thinning, hyporexia (decreased appetite), tachycardia (increased heart rate), recurrent infections, and delayed growth and psychomotor development.

Some symptoms may depend on the cause of anemia: changes in nails, skin and tongue, especially in anemia caused by lack of vitamins such as B12 and folic acid.

What foods should eat a child who has anemia?

Food should be varied but should include:

  1. - Poultry, fish, and especially red meat.
  2. - Legumes like lentils, chickpeas, beans (its iron is best absorbed if accompanied by orange juice).
  3. - Green leafy vegetables (its iron is also absorbed better if accompanied by orange juice).
  4. - Liver.
  5. - Fortified cereals, fortified milk and yogurt.

Anemia can be avoided:

  • Promoting breastfeeding.
  • Offering a full and varied diet after the age of six months.
  • Receiving iron supplements as prescribed by a doctor.
  • Ensuring children and pregnant women receive regular medical check-ups.