Pediatric Anemia

Anemia happens when a child’s body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells. Children with bleeding disorders, blood cancers and certain inflammatory conditions often experience anemia.

At Children’s Health, our team of experts will pinpoint the exact cause of your child’s anemia and create a custom treatment plan to help them stay healthy and active.

What is Pediatric Anemia?

A child with anemia doesn’t have enough red blood cells. These cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, enabling your muscles and organs to function properly. This lack of red blood cells can cause a child to feel weak and tired. Some children develop more serious issues like heart rhythm problems.

What are the types of Pediatric Anemia?

There are several types of anemia:

Iron-deficiency anemia

Iron-deficiency anemia is the most common anemia. It occurs when the body doesn’t get the right amount of nutrients like iron. This type can also be the result of blood loss or poor iron absorption.

Vitamin-deficiency anemia

Vitamin-deficiency anemia is the result of low levels of vitamin B12 or folate.

Pernicious anemia

Pernicious anemia occurs when the gastrointestinal tract can’t absorb enough vitamin B12.

Hemolytic anemia

Hemolytic anemia happens when red blood cells break up in the bloodstream or spleen (the organ that filters blood). Autoimmune diseases, infections and certain inherited conditions can cause hemolytic anemia.

Sickle cell anemia

Sickle cell anemia is an inherited form of hemolytic anemia. People with sickle cell anemia have blood cells shaped like crescents instead of round disks. This unusual shape makes it harder for blood to flow.

Aplastic anemia

Aplastic anemia is a life-threatening condition that happens when your body doesn’t produce enough new blood cells. Certain autoimmune diseases, infections, medications and toxins can cause this rare anemia.

Diamond-Blackfan anemia

Diamond-Blackfan anemia is an inherited condition that affects bone marrow. This spongy tissue inside bones contains stem cells that can develop into red blood cells.

What are the signs and symptoms of Pediatric Anemia?

A child with anemia may have:

  • Extreme fatigue or weakness
  • Brown (tea-colored) urine
  • Bruises
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Cranky (irritable) mood and behavior
  • Jaundice (yellow skin or eyes)
  • Pale or grey skin and lips

A child with severe anemia may also have these symptoms:

How is Pediatric Anemia diagnosed?

Anemia is typically diagnosed with a blood test. A blood test can:

  • Measure red blood cell counts and hemoglobin (a protein that helps red blood cells carry and deliver oxygen)
  • Check for genetic (inherited) bleeding disorders like Von Willebrand disease and hemophilia or sickle cell disease
  • Measure amounts of iron and ferritin (a protein that helps your child’s body store iron)

What causes Pediatric Anemia?

Anemia in children is often the result of underlying blood disorders, including:

  • An inherited bleeding disorder, such as hemophilia or von Willebrand disease, that keeps blood from clotting. Children with these disorders bleed excessively. When a child loses a lot of blood, the body can’t replenish the supply of red blood cells fast enough, which leads to anemia. Adolescent girls who have certain menstrual cycle disorders are also more prone to anemia.
  • Illnesses that damage or destroy red blood cells, such as leukemia or sickle cell disease.
  • Inflammatory conditions like juvenile arthritis or Crohn’s disease.
  • Iron deficiency (often caused by blood loss or a lack of iron in your diet) or another vitamin deficiency can slow the body’s production of red blood cells and cause anemia.

How is Pediatric Anemia treated?

Treatments for anemia vary depending on what’s causing your child’s anemia. Our blood disorders team treats a high number of children with anemia every year, which gives us the expertise to know which treatment will work best for your child.

Anemia treatments include:

  • Dietary changes and nutritional supplements
  • Vitamin B12 injections
  • Erythropoietin injections (a hormone that helps your body produce red blood cells)
  • Blood transfusions
  • Bone marrow (stem cell) transplant

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How common is anemia in children?

    An estimated 20% of kids experience some type of anemia during childhood.

  • What is pica?

    Children with iron-deficiency anemia may develop an unusual behavior known as pica, where they crave or chew non-nutritive substances (things that aren’t food). Young children may try to eat dirt, clay or ice. Iron supplements can treat this type of anemia and put an end to pica.

  • What foods can prevent anemia?

    Eating foods high in iron can give red blood cells a boost. These foods include:

    • Dark green vegetables like spinach and broccoli
    • Dried fruits like raisins
    • Iron-fortified foods, such as cereal and bread
    • Beans, including soybeans, chickpeas and lentils
    • Nuts
    • Red meats and seafood
    • Whole-grain breads and products