Many teens complain of feeling tired all of the time or having frequent headaches. For some teens, the cause of these symptoms could be anemia. Jasmine Reese, M.D., from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, is here to share with us some helpful information regarding anemia in adolescents and what usually causes it.
What is anemia and why is it important to understand?
In brief, anemia is when your body does not have enough red blood cells. Your blood is made up of thousands of red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout your body and to your organs. Each red blood cell has a protein called hemoglobin that carries the oxygen. In order for hemoglobin to carry oxygen, it needs iron, which comes from the food we eat.
What causes anemia?
Anemia can happen if your body has a chronic illness that doesn’t allow your body to make enough red blood cells, for example a bone marrow illness or infection. It can happen if your body is losing too many red blood cells, for example a bleeding disorder. Anemia also can happen in some autoimmune disorders where the body is mistakenly destroying red blood cells. However, it is important to know that most common form of anemia in adolescents in the United States is iron deficiency anemia. This typically happens when a teen does not get enough iron in their diet. Other common reasons for teens be iron deficient include rapid growth spurts and onset of menstrual cycles for girls.
What are the symptoms of iron deficiency anemia?
Over time, teens can start complaining of feeling tired, weak, having frequent headaches and having low energy. Their skin may start to look pale, they may feel that they have shortness of breath or that they have a faster heart rate than normal.
What will your doctor do and how is iron deficiency anemia treated?
If you are worried about your teen having anemia you should discuss this with your pediatrician or doctor. Their evaluation will including a detailed history including diet history, a physical exam and some blood work to check on your teen’s hemoglobin levels. Your doctor might prescribe an iron supplement or they may just recommend including iron-rich sources of food in your teen’s daily diet. Examples include lean meats, raisins, dried beans, tomato sauce, eggs, nuts, molasses, iron-rich cereals and bread.
On Call for All Kids is a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital medical experts. Visit HopkinsAllChildrens.org/Newsroom each Monday for the latest report.