Anemia is the most common disorder of blood in children and infants. In this blood disorder the red blood cells (RBC) are too less. Anemia can cause many health problems in infants and children due to deficit of red blood cells which contain hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying protein. Hemoglobin carries oxygen to each and every cell and tissue of the body.
Anemia is classified into various types, but the most common is iron deficiency anemia. This blood disorder is caused due to three major reasons; it can be due to excessive destruction of red blood cells, excessive loss of blood, or inadequate production of red blood cells.Inherited disorders, nutritional deficiency, recurrent infections can also be attributing factors.
Pallor, inactivity due to fatigue, light hair, snub nose, enlarged spleen and liver, etc are some of the symptoms of anemia in infants. Treatment depends on the causative factor. Iron deficiency anemia can be corrected with supplementary iron therapy as well as diet in older infants.
What Are The Causes Of Anemia In Infants?
As mentioned earlier anemia in infants can occur due to three major reasons. It can be either due to reduced manufacturing of RBC, or destruction of RBC, or due to excessive loss of blood.
- Congenital hypoplastic anemia: In this condition the bone marrow is unable to produce adequate number of RBC since birth. The condition usually manifests one month after birth.
- Iron deficiency is most common cause of anemia in children and infants. During the first six months the infant is protected from iron deficiency as it has iron storage from prenatal life. However, if mother is anemic due to inadequate dietary intake or if she has loss of blood or has multiple pregnancies. Iron deficiency is also present in premature infant. After six months the infant depends on iron from what he eats in his diet. Poorly planned meals, recurrent gastrointestinal infections, diet with excessive milk, carbohydrates, etc can also lead to iron deficiency from nine months to twenty four months of age.
- Sickle cell anemia is a genetic disorder which mainly affects infants and children of African and Middle East origin. In this disorder the RBC turns into sickle shape due to abnormality in hemoglobin. There is excess and faster destruction of RBC as they are more rigid and break easily.
- Anemia due to acute hemorrhage in new born may occur immediately before or just after the birth. It can be due to rupture of placenta.
- Anemia in infants due to chronic hemorrhage can be due to recurrent bleeding from nose, polyp in anus, ulcerative lesions in intestine, clotting disorders, tumor in urinary tract etc.
- Anemia in infants due to chronic infection can develop after weeks and months of illness.
Signs And Symptoms Of Anemia In Infants
Symptoms of anemia may vary from one child to another. If an infant has anemia the first symptom to develop or is perceptible is pallor on his face. His lips and face are pale. Even the nail bed is pale in appearance. The changes are gradual in onset and often missed by parents.
Decrease in normal activity, increased irritability, loss of appetite, mild to moderate swelling around the eyes, spleen and liver enlargement, rapid heartbeat, recurrent mouth lesions, blood in stool, etc are some of the symptoms manifested in infants suffering from anemia.
Treatment Options For Anemia In Infants
Treatment of anemia will depend on its cause. If a baby is anemic due to iron deficiency or folic acid deficiency, which is more common after the baby attains 6 months of age, he should be provided with food that consist iron.
He may also need iron supplement. Iron and vitamin supplements for infants are available in form of drops. Iron is best absorbed on empty stomach but since it causes stomach upsets, supplement is recommended to be taken after milk feeding or after eating food. Usually red blood count returns back to normal after treatment of few months.
If some other cause is identified such as chronic infection or hemorrhage than it has to be addressed as early as possible. Bacterial infection is dealt with antibiotic treatment for few days. More investigations may be needed to find the site of hemorrhage in intestine.
Your doctor may recommend several tests to find the exact cause. Once the cause is known, your doctor will start treatment to stop bleeding from the site.