Living With Anemia

Often, you can treat and control anemia. If you have signs or symptoms of anemia, seek prompt diagnosis and treatment. Treatment may increase your energy and activity levels, improve your quality of life, and help you live longer.

With proper treatment, many types of anemia are mild and short term. However, anemia can be severe, long lasting, or even fatal when it's caused by an inherited or chronic disease or trauma.

Anemia and Children/Teens

Infants and young children have a greater need for iron because of their rapid growth. Not enough iron can lead to anemia. Premature and low-birth-weight babies often are watched closely for anemia.

Talk with your child's doctor if you're feeding your infant breast milk only or formula that isn't fortified with iron, especially after the child is 6 months old. Your child's doctor may recommend iron supplements.

Children who drink a lot of cow's milk also are at risk for anemia. Cow's milk is low in the iron needed for growth.

Most of the iron your child needs comes from food. Talk with your child's doctor about a healthy diet and good sources of iron, vitamins B12 and C, and folic acid (folate). Only give your child iron supplements if the doctor prescribes them. You should carefully follow instructions on how to give your child these supplements.

If your child has anemia, his or her doctor may ask whether the child has been exposed to lead. Lead poisoning in children has been linked to iron-deficiency anemia.

Teenagers also are at risk for anemia, especially iron-deficiency anemia, because of their growth spurts. Routine screenings for anemia often are started in the teen years.

Older children and teens who have certain types of severe anemia might be at higher risk for injuries or infections. Talk with your child's doctor about whether your child needs to avoid high-risk activities, such as contact sports.

Girls begin to menstruate and lose iron with each monthly period. Some girls and women are at higher risk for anemia due to excessive blood loss from menstruation or other causes, low iron intake, or a history of anemia. These girls and women may need regular screenings and followup for anemia.

Anemia and Pregnant/Postchildbirth Women

Anemia can occur during pregnancy due to a lack of iron and folic acid and changes in the blood. During the first 6 months of pregnancy, the fluid portion of a woman's blood (the plasma) increases faster than the number of red blood cells. This dilutes the blood and can lead to anemia.

Severe anemia raises the risk of having a premature or low-birth-weight baby. Thus, pregnant women should be screened for anemia during their first prenatal visits. They also need routine followup as part of prenatal care.

Women often are tested for anemia after delivery (postpartum), especially if they had:

  • Anemia that continued during the last 3 months (third trimester) of pregnancy
  • A lot of blood loss during pregnancy, childbirth, or after childbirth
  • Multiple births

Anemia and Older Adults

Chronic diseases, lack of iron, and/or generally poor nutrition often cause anemia in older adults. Also, in older adults, anemia often occurs with other medical problems. Thus, the signs and symptoms of anemia might not be as clear or they might be overlooked.

Contact your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms of anemia. If you're diagnosed with anemia, your doctor may:

  • Ask about your diet to find out whether you're getting enough vitamins. He or she may recommend vitamins or iron or folic acid supplements.
  • Prescribe a man-made version of erythropoietin if your anemia is the result of cancer, kidney disease, or treatments for these diseases. Erythropoietin is a hormone that stimulates the bone marrow to make red blood cells.
  • Recommend a blood transfusion if your anemia is severe.


Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health