Anemia is a disorder characterized by the lack of adequate healthy red blood cells to distribute oxygen-rich blood to different organs and tissues in the body. The presence of this condition may result in a feeling of perennial exhaustion. According to the World Health Organization, the disorders affects close to 24.8 per cent of the world population, with the highest incidence being in preschool children (47.5%).
There are several types of anemia and each has a specific cause. One of the most common causes is loss of blood. The disorder can be chronic or short-term, and it can vary from minor to serious.
Consult a doctor if you feel that your child has anemia, because it can be a symptom of a serious underlying condition. The treatment can include varied medical procedures, consuming supplements, etc. It is possible to prevent certain forms of anemia in children by opting for a varied and healthy diet.
The signs and symptoms of anemia in children may differ as per the cause. However, common symptoms include:
- Exhaustion or fatigue
- An irregular or rapid heartbeat
- Paleness of skin
- Pain in the chest
- Cognitive difficulties
- Cold feet and hands
The initial symptoms of anemia in children may be so mild as to go unnoticed. The symptoms however increase with worsening of the condition.
Untreated cases can result in a number of medical complications such as cardiac problems, elevated fatigue, and even death.
Causes of anemia in children
Anemia occurs due to insufficient number of red blood cells in the bloodstream. This may be caused due to:
- Inadequate production of RBCs by the body
- Destruction of red blood cells by the body
- Bleeding. It results in rapid loss of RBCs which cannot be as quickly replaced by the body.
Functions of red blood cells: The body produces three kinds of blood cells, i.e., RBCs to supply oxygenated blood across the body, white blood cells to defend against infections, and platelets that aid in blood clotting.
- RBCs contain hemoglobin which is an iron-abundant, red protein that imparts the red color to blood. Hemoglobin enables RBCs to carry oxygen from the lungs to different areas of the body, and to carry back the carbon dioxide from across the body to the lungs, so that it can be removed during exhalation.
- A majority of blood cells, including RBCs are regularly made by the bone marrow. The body requires vitamin B-12, iron, folate, and other essential nutrients from the consumed food to be able to produce RBCs and hemoglobin.
Common types of anemia in children and its causes
- Vitamin deficiency anemia: If the diet of children lacks vitamin B-12, folate, and other major nutrients then it can lower the RBC production. Also, despite sufficient intake of B-12, some children may still develop vitamin deficiency anemia as their bodies cannot process the vitamin.
- Iron deficiency anemia:It is caused due to lack of iron element in the body. The bone marrow cannot produce sufficient hemoglobin for RBCs without enough iron. This type of anemia is usually caused due to loss of blood, via cancer, heavy menstrual bleeding, a polyp in the digestive system, an ulcer, or prolonged use of NSAIDs or aspirin.
- Anemia caused by underlying chronic disease:HIV/AIDS, cancer, Crohn’s disease, prolonged inflammatory diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, and other chronic diseases can affect the production of RBCs, thereby causing chronic anemia in children. Kidney failure is another major cause.
- Anemia related to bone marrow diseases: Myelodysplasia, leukemia, and other such cancer-like conditions can affect the production of blood by bone marrow. Such diseases can cause mild changes in the production of blood, or a complete and fatal shutdown of the blood-production process. Myeloproliferative abnormalities, multiple myeloma, lymphoma and other cancers of the bone marrow or blood can also cause anemia in children.
- Aplastic anemia: It is a very rare and deadly type of anemia that is caused due to lowered ability of the bone marrow to make RBCs. The condition may be caused due to drugs, infections, and autoimmune disorders.
- Sickle cell anemia: It is a hereditary and occasionally severe form of anemia that affects children. It is caused by an abnormal hemoglobin type which forces RBCs to take an anomalous crescent or sickle shape. Such irregularly-shaped RBCs tend to die prematurely, thereby leading to a perennial dearth of red blood cells.
- Hemolytic anemia: It causes destruction of RBCs at a rate that is faster than the rate of replacement by the bone marrow. RBC destruction may be caused due to some underlying blood diseases. Hemolytic anemia can be hereditary, or it can develop later.
Anemia in children is treated as per the underlying cause of the condition.
- Vitamin deficiency anemia in children can be treated by increasing the percentage of vitamin C and folic acid in the diet and via dietary supplements. Vitamin B-12 injections are given to children whose digestive systems are unable to absorb the vitamin from the consumed food.
- Iron supplements and diet changes can help treat iron deficiency anemia in children. If it is caused due to blood loss, other than menstruation, then the cause of bleeding has to be stopped via surgery or other means.
- Chronic disease anemia is treated by curing the underlying cause. Severe cases may require synthetic erythropoietin injections or blood transfusions.
- Bone marrow disease associated anemia can be treated with simple drugs, chemotherapy, or transplantation of bone marrow.
- Blood transfusions and bone marrow transplantation are available treatment options for aplastic anemia in children.
- The treatment of sickle cell anemia may include use of pain killer medications, oxygen administration, and intravenous or oral intake of fluids, to alleviate pain and prevent health complications.Physicians may also suggest antibiotics, blood transfusions, and folic acid supplements. In some cases, bone marrow transplantation may also prove to be very effective. Patients may also be given a cancer medication known as hydroxyurea for treating this type of anemia.
- Treatment of hemolytic anemia involves curing associated infections, avoiding suspect drugs, and intake of immuno-suppressant medications. Plasmapheresis and blood transfusions are other treatment options.