Heart and Blood Conditions

Iron-Deficiency Anemia

What is iron-deficiency anemia?

Anemia occurs when the level of red blood cells in the blood drops below normal or when the red blood cells cannot deliver oxygen well to the rest of the body. The most common reason for this in children is iron deficiency.

If children do not get enough iron from their diet, or if their body loses iron for some reason, their iron level may drop too low for good oxygen delivery to happen. This is known as iron-deficiency anemia.

When your child breathes, oxygen goes from her lungs into her blood. Her red blood cells contain a protein called hemoglobin. This protein grabs hold of the oxygen.

Then the red blood cells travel around your child's body, and drop off the oxygen to cells that need it.

If your child does not have enough iron, her body cannot make enough hemoglobin. If there's not enough hemoglobin, cells can't get enough oxygen.

Iron-Deficiency Anemia in Children

Any child who does not get enough iron can get iron-deficiency anemia. Some children are at higher risk:

  • Children in poor families
  • Infants and teens, because people need more iron when they grow quickly
  • Infants younger than 12 months who drink cow's milk instead of formula with iron
  • Infants older than 6 months whose diet consists of only breast milk
  • Premature infants, because they had less time to store up iron before birth
  • Toddlers, who tend not to get enough iron once they stop eating infant formula and infant cereals with iron
  • Adolescent girls who have heavy or irregular periods

The iron in meats is easier to absorb than the iron in plant foods. Children who eat a vegetarian diet need to eat foods fortified with iron to get enough of this mineral.

Your child's doctor can advise you on how to make sure your child gets enough.

Iron-Deficiency Anemia at Seattle Children’s

At Children's Hospital, we offer a full range of services to diagnose and treat iron-deficiency anemia. We often work with children and families to help tell this form of anemia from other forms.

In some cases, low iron level and anemia are symptoms of some other illness, such as inflammatory bowel disease.

Our doctors can help identify whether some other illness is affecting your child's iron level. If your child needs care for some other illness, we can help connect you and your child's primary doctor to other specialists.

Read more about our experience and treatment of blood diseases through our Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.