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Iron deficiency anemia


What is anemia?

Anemia is a common health problem. It happens when your body has fewer red blood cells than normal.

Red blood cells carry oxygen to every part of your body. The part of your red blood cells that carries oxygen is called “hemoglobin.” Your child’s doctor might check your child’s hemoglobin level with a blood test.

What is iron deficiency anemia?

Your body uses a nutrient called iron to help make hemoglobin. Having less iron than normal can lead to anemia. This means you have fewer red blood cells and less oxygen in every part of your body. The medical term for anemia caused by low iron is “iron deficiency anemia.”

Iron deficiency anemia can last a short time or a long time. The main causes are not getting enough iron from foods you eat or drinking too much cow’s milk. Other causes can include bleeding or having a chronic (long lasting) illness. Your child’s doctor can talk with you about the cause.

Signs of low iron

Signs of low iron include:

  1. Pale skin or pale color inside the lower eyelids.
  2. Thin, brittle fingernails.
  3. Less energy than normal.
  4. Problems growing and developing normally.


Another sign of iron deficiency anemia is called “pica.” Pica is eating things that are not food. These can include:

  • Ice,
  • Chalk,
  • Dirt,
  • Tissue, and
  • House materials, such as carpet and drywall.

Do not let your child eat anything that is not food. It can make the anemia worse. Tell your doctor or nurse if you think your child has pica.

How is iron deficiency anemia treated?

Treatment depends on what is causing your child’s anemia. Eating foods with a lot of iron in them is the easiest way to treat iron deficiency anemia. These foods include spinach, red meat, eggs, and fish.

Your child’s doctor might also give your child iron medicine.

Giving your child iron medicine

Your child will probably get iron medicine to take by mouth, as a pill or liquid. Here are some tips to make the iron work well and prevent side effects.

  • Give your child the iron when their stomach is empty. Do not give them food at the same time as the iron. You can give the iron before a meal or at bedtime.
  • Give the iron with some orange juice. The vitamin C in orange juice helps your child’s body absorb the iron. If your child does not like orange juice, try apple, mango, or pineapple juice.
  • Avoid giving iron medicine after a meal. Your child’s body absorbs iron best on an empty stomach.   Also, many foods contain calcium. Calcium keeps the body from absorbing iron.

Taking iron by mouth can cause your child to have darker bowel movements. They might also have constipation. This means bowel movements are harder and more difficult. You can give your child medicine to keep their bowel movements normal and soft. Talk to your doctor or nurse about which medicine is best for your child.

How will I know if the iron is working?

Your child’s doctor will probably do blood tests to check the anemia. Ask the doctor or nurse if your child needs tests.

If the iron is working, you might also notice that your child has more energy. Their lips and fingernails might look pinker.


If you have questions about low iron or anything else, please call 901-595-5401 and ask to talk with your child’s doctor or nurse.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

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