What are the symptoms of iron deficiency in children?

02/12/2020

Iron is an essential nutrient for the body at all ages. Children and adolescents, however, may have an increased body need for this nutrient to support the normal development of cognitive function and immune system, as well as the normal formation of haemoglobin, myoglobin and certain enzymes that play a role in important metabolic functions. In this article, we will learn about the symptoms of iron deficiency in children.

Iron deficiency in children: causes and symptoms

Iron is involved in the formation of haemoglobin, myoglobin and certain enzymes that play important metabolic roles. In addition, iron contributes to normal cognitive functions and the normal function of the immune system

Iron is particularly important in children. In fact, the first years of life require an increased body need for iron to support the normal growth of the body.

Iron deficiency in the paediatric age is a rather frequent condition precisely due to the body’s iron requirements during growth being high. During the first year of age, in particular, there is a rapid development both physically and mentally, but the increased need for iron continues during the rest of childhood and adolescence. 

Before talking about the symptoms of iron deficiency in children, however, it is important to find out what the main causes are:

A. Reduced iron intake with diet

In children and adolescents, it is quite common for iron deficiency to be related to a poor dietary intake of this nutrient. The first year of life, the prepubertal age and adolescence are the most critical moments that deserve more attention.

In the first months of life, the newborn’s body can rely on two resources:

  1. The iron deposits present at birth;
  2. Breast milk or formula milk.

The amount of iron present in breast milk is not very high, but it is an iron with high bioavailability (lactoferrin bound) and therefore more easily assimilated by the newborn. In artificial milk, on the other hand, the proportion of assimilable iron is lower, but the large amount of iron contained in formulas prevents the possibility of a possible iron deficiency due to dietary causes.

From the moment of weaning, which generally begins with the introduction of the first meals from the fourth to sixth month onwards, the iron needed by the body will be provided by a varied and balanced diet.

During the prepubertal age and during adolescence, iron deficiency can be related to an inadequate diet that does not provide the body with the right amount of nutrients, including iron.

B. Reduced iron absorption

Certain inflammatory gastrointestinal diseases, coeliac disease or intestinal infections may result in reduced iron absorption from diet. 

C. Increased blood loss

Certain physiological conditions, such as the menstrual cycle in adolescents, can lead to iron deficiency due to increased blood loss. Certain intestinal diseases or infections can also cause blood loss and thus decrease the amount of iron in the body.

D. Low prenatal iron deposit

Low prenatal iron deposit is a condition that occurs especially in prematurely born babies. This is because most of the iron present at the birth of the baby is absorbed through the placenta during the third trimester of pregnancy. Low iron deposit at birth can also be caused by maternal iron deficiency during pregnancy.

Symptoms of iron deficiency in children

Iron deficiency, especially when is caused by poor eating habits, has a slow onset. Sometimes the symptoms of iron deficiency in children may not be very noticeable. This is because the body gradually adapts to low iron levels. However, iron deficiency should never be underestimated and it is always important to keep iron levels in the body under control with regular examinations. 

The most frequent symptoms of iron deficiency in children are:

  • General physical and mental fatigue and tiredness (asthenia);
  • Slower growth;
  • Headaches, migraine, irritability;
  • Increased fragility of skin, nails and hair;
  • Shortness of breath, even at rest;
  • Sleep disorders;
  • Tachycardia;
  • Difficulty concentrating;
  • Pale skin and mucous membranes.

Iron deficiency in children: what to do about it

Iron deficiency (sideropenia) is diagnosed through laboratory tests. The paediatrician will assess the severity of the iron deficiency and propose the most suitable approach. In general, it may include a diet with iron-rich foods and the possible administration of specific nutritional supplements to overcome iron deficiency or increased body iron requirements.


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