Childhood anemia is a condition where there is a low number of red blood cells. Symptoms can include pale skin, low energy, and breathlessness. Treatments may include supplements, dietary changes, and more.

Different types of anemia can affect children. The most common type is iron deficiency anemia. Treatments can depend on the type of anemia.

Read on to find out more about childhood anemia. This article discusses the types, symptoms, causes, treatment options, and more.

Anemia is a condition where the amount of red blood cells in the body is below typical levels. It affects up to 50% of children under 5 years worldwide.

Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, which is responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body. When there are not enough red blood cells, tissue and organs do not get as much oxygen as they need to function properly. This can lead to symptoms of anemia.

Learn more about anemia.

Several types of anemia may affect children. The most common type is iron deficiency anemia. It occurs when a child does not get enough iron in their diet or when their body cannot absorb iron properly.

Learn more about iron deficiency anemia.

Other types of anemia include:

  • Hemolytic anemia: Hemolytic anemia occurs when the blood cells are destroyed more quickly than the bone marrow can create them.
  • Sickle cell anemia: Sickle cell anemia occurs when red blood cells have changes in shape, stickiness, and rigidity, which can lead to clotting and other health issues.
  • Aplastic anemia: Aplastic anemia occurs when the bone marrow does not produce enough red blood cells.
  • Megaloblastic anemia: Megaloblastic anemia occurs when there are fewer but very large red blood cells.
  • Fanconi anemia: Fanconi anemia is a rare, inherited condition that can cause bone marrow failure and a reduced number of red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets.
  • Diamond-Blackfan anemia: Diamond-Blackfan anemia occurs when the bone marrow does not make any red blood cells.

Symptoms and signs of childhood anemia can vary from child to child.

Some symptoms a child with anemia may have include:

Without treatment, complications of childhood anemia can also occur. These can include:

  • impaired motor and cognitive development
  • delayed growth
  • difficulties with school performance

While these signs and symptoms might indicate anemia, they have numerous possible causes. It is best to consult a doctor for an accurate diagnosis if a child shows signs of anemia or experiences related complications.

Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of childhood anemia. It occurs when there is not enough iron in the body. This can happen due to not getting enough iron in the diet or if the body does not absorb iron properly.

Other causes of different types of anemia can include:

Some types of anemia are also inherited. These include Fanconi anemia and sickle cell anemia.

A doctor can determine the cause of anemia and advise on suitable treatments. A person may wish to discuss nutritional supplements or vitamins with the child’s doctor.

Symptoms of childhood anemia may be difficult to distinguish from other possible causes. If a parent or guardian brings a child to a pediatrician, the doctor will likely discuss personal and family medical history and perform a physical examination.

If the doctor suspects anemia, they may order a complete blood count. This is the most common diagnostic test for diagnosing anemia.

Screenings for anemia are done at recommended intervals, so it is best to keep routine well-visits scheduled by the child’s doctor.

The blood test can show whether the child’s red blood cell count and hemoglobin levels are lower than they should be. Typical hemoglobin levels in children range from 9.4 grams (g) per deciliter (dL) to 16.5 g/dL, depending on the child’s age. If test results fall outside this range, the child may have anemia.

A doctor may need to order additional tests to check for underlying causes of the anemia.

Learn more about complete blood counts.

How a doctor treats anemia varies based on several factors, including the:

  • type of anemia
  • underlying cause
  • severity of the condition

In cases of iron deficiency anemia, a doctor may recommend iron supplements. Learn about iron supplements.

They may also refer the child to a dietitian to help them find ways of getting more iron in their diet. Examples of foods high in iron include:

  • red meat
  • fortified cereals
  • eggs
  • poultry

A dietitian may also recommend a child eat more foods rich in vitamin C to help with iron absorption.

If the doctor identifies another underlying cause, treatment can address the condition leading to anemia.

Learn about foods and meal plans for iron deficiency.

Iron deficiency is the most common cause of childhood anemia. Eating a well-balanced diet with iron-rich foods can help prevent iron deficiency and anemia.

If dietary changes are not enough, a doctor may recommend iron supplements to help ensure the child gets enough iron each day.

A parent or guardian should consider taking the child to a doctor if they show signs of anemia. Because symptoms can resemble other conditions, it is important to receive an accurate diagnosis so the child can begin the right treatment plan.

Here are some frequently asked questions about childhood anemia.

What is the most common anemia in childhood?

Iron deficiency anemia is the most common form of childhood anemia.

What are the signs of anemia in a child?

Signs of anemia in children can vary. Examples of symptoms include paleness, breathlessness, tiredness, and irritability.

Can a child recover from anemia?

A child can often improve their red blood cell counts by eating a well-balanced diet and, in some cases, taking nutritional supplements, such as iron.

A child with an underlying condition causing the anemia will need treatment specifically for the condition. In those cases, a child’s outlook is based on the severity and treatability of the underlying condition.

Should I worry if my child is anemic?

A parent or guardian should contact a doctor for treatment advice if a child has anemia. A doctor can determine the underlying cause and recommend suitable treatments. This can help reduce the risk of complications.

Childhood anemia is often the result of iron deficiency. Several underlying conditions can also cause anemia to occur.

Symptoms of childhood anemia can vary but may include pale skin, breathing difficulties, weakness, and irritability.

A doctor can typically diagnose anemia with a complete blood count. They may also order additional tests to determine any underlying cause.

Following diagnosis, a doctor can advise on suitable treatments, which may include iron supplements and dietary changes.