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The Causes and Risks of Iron Deficiency in Children

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The human body requires a steady supply of iron, regardless of age or phase of life. Iron deficiencies are common in children and especially risky because children’s bodies are still growing and developing.

Iron is important for children because it helps to transport oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body, and it allows the muscles to store and use this oxygen.

A temporary depletion of iron can present itself with mild symptoms, or a more serious condition of anemia can result. But if left untreated, iron deficiency in a child can have profound effects on long-term health. This article will cover how iron deficiency in children can lead to anemia, which may result in delayed growth and development.

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What Causes Children to Be Iron Deficient?

There are several causes of anemia in children. Babies and children of all ages can develop an iron deficiency; however, some young individuals are more at risk than others. For example, babies who are born prematurely or have a low birth weight develop this deficiency more often than their peers. Studies show that babies should drink formula that is fortified with iron or be given supplemental foods that contain iron if breastfed. Meanwhile toddlers who drink over 24 ounces of cow, goat, or soy milk per day, who have experienced lead exposure, and who have chronic infections are more likely to develop an iron deficiency.

Why Iron Deficiency in Children Leads to Anemia

Child anemia results when a child’s body doesn’t produce an adequate number of healthy red blood cells. In anemic individuals, oxygen isn’t properly transported throughout the body, which can cause serious symptoms and long-term damage. Since iron helps to create new red blood cells, a lack of this mineral in the body commonly causes iron deficiency anemia.

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency Anemia for Children

It is often not possible to recognize an iron deficiency in a child until it develops into full-blown iron deficiency anemia. At that point, parents may notice symptoms in a child such as pale skin, poor appetite, fatigue, unusual cravings, or frequent infections. Anemic children may also complain of having a sore tongue, feel dizzy, become short of breath, or act more irritable than usual.

Risks of Untreated Anemia in Children

Studies show that low levels of iron may stunt a child’s growth and hinder learning abilities. This can include a small physical stature, short attention span, difficulty understanding new things, and reduced alertness. Another big risk of low iron levels in children is an increased susceptibility to infections and difficulty overcoming them.

It is important for parents to feed their children healthy foods that contain iron to naturally prevent and treat iron deficiencies. Some of the best iron-rich foods to serve at meals include apricots, fish, chicken, oatmeal, eggs, prune juice, raisins, and spinach.

If dietary changes alone are not enough to bring a child’s iron levels up to a healthy level, a pediatrician may recommend taking iron supplements by mouth. Iron supplements like Fergon are typically recommended for adult use, so parents should consult with a doctor before administering any over-the-counter supplement to a child.

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