Iron Deficiency Anemia in Children: Care Instructions

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Blood vessel

Iron deficiency anemia means that your child doesn't have enough iron in his or her blood. Your child may not get enough iron from food. Or maybe your child's body can't absorb iron well. Another common cause is blood loss. A girl who loses blood from heavy periods may need more iron. So may a child who has bleeding in the stomach or bowel.

Anemia gets worse slowly. You may not notice it right away. Your child may look pale. He or she may feel weak and tired.

Your doctor may need to do more tests to find and treat the problem. Follow up with your doctor to make sure that your child's iron level goes back to normal.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • If your doctor recommended iron pills for your child, give them as directed.
    • Try to give the pills on an empty stomach about 1 hour before or 2 hours after meals. But your child may need to take iron with food to avoid an upset stomach.
    • Do not give your child antacids or let your child drink milk or caffeine drinks (such as coffee, tea, or cola) at the same time or within 2 hours of the time that your child takes iron pills. They can keep the body from absorbing the iron well.
    • Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron. You may want to give iron pills with a glass of orange juice or some other food high in vitamin C.
    • Iron pills may cause stomach problems, such as heartburn, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and cramps. Be sure your child drinks plenty of fluids. Include fruits, vegetables, and fibre in your child's diet each day. Iron pills can change the colour of your child's stool to a greenish or grayish black. This is normal. But internal bleeding can also cause dark stool, so be sure to mention any colour changes to your doctor.
    • Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think your child is having a problem with the iron pills. Even after your child starts feeling better, it will take several months for the body to build up its supply of iron.
    • If your child misses taking a pill on time, do not give a double dose of iron.
    • Keep iron pills out of the reach of small children. An overdose of iron can be very dangerous.
  • Have your child eat foods rich in iron. These include red meat, shellfish, poultry, eggs, beans, raisins, whole-grain bread, and leafy green vegetables.
  • Steam vegetables to help them keep their iron content.
  • Do not give your child non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain relievers, such as aspirin, naproxen (Aleve), or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), unless your doctor tells you to.
  • Liquid forms of iron can stain your child's teeth. You can mix a dose of liquid iron in water, fruit juice, or tomato juice. Then let your child drink it with a straw so that it does not get on the teeth.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).
  • Your child vomits blood or what looks like coffee grounds.
  • Your child passes maroon or very bloody stools.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child's stools are black and tar-like or have streaks of blood.
  • Your child is dizzy or light-headed, or your child feels like he or she may faint.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • Your child's fatigue and weakness continue or get worse.
  • Your child has side effects from taking iron pills, such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, or heartburn.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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