Anaemia is a widespread public health problem, with about 1.62 billion people around the world diagnosed with this condition, 47.4% of them children. In India too, anaemia is a widely prevalent problem in young children, adolescent girls and pregnant women. Statistics reveal that about 90 million children in India are anaemic, the number being maximum in kids less than 5 years old. Iron deficiency as well as inadequacy of nutrients like Vitamins E, B12 & folic acid are the more common causes of anaemia.
What is Iron deficiency anaemia?
This is a condition in which the amount of red blood cells (RBC) is much below what is considered as normal for a child’s age group. RBC have a special protein in them called Haemoglobin. It is this protein that facilitates the RBCs to carry and deliver oxygen to the other cells in the body. When the number of RBCs decreases, the child becomes anaemic, and oxygen supply to muscles, organs and tissues too reduce, resulting in several health conditions in the child.
RBCs can decrease because of insufficient iron or nutrients or because of an underlying illness or even because of a gradual low-grade blood loss because of worms in the tummy. Fortunately, the condition can be easily reversed once the cause is found.
How to understand if my child is anaemic?
The simplest symptom is that the child may appear pale in colour, be weak or cranky. They may lose focus in studies and show disinterest in school activities. More severe symptoms are swollen hands and feet, shortness of breath and a rapid heart rate. Some children may also show an inclination for eating dirt, clay, ice and corn starch. This tendency will stop once the anaemia is treated.
If you notice your child showing any of these signs, see your doctor at the earliest. Anaemia can be easily treated and like all health issues, the earlier diagnosed, the easier to treat.
How to treat anaemia?
A well-balanced diet is the fundamental requirement. Once the iron or vitamin deficiency is diagnosed, consult your doctor and give your child vegetables, fruits and medicines to boost that particular deficiency.
If your child is less than a year old, avoid giving cow’s milk till he/she turns 1. Ask your paediatrician about iron boosters. If the child is older than a year, do not give them more than 2 cups a day of milk as it reduces iron absorption. Milk tends to make the child feel full discouraging him/her from eating more nutritious food.
Encourage your children to eat dark, leafy vegetables, and grains and cereals that have iron added to them. Other good sources of iron are red meat, egg yolk, raisins, beans and tomatoes. Adding Vitamin C to the diet either as supplements or through diet as it will help in the absorption of iron into the body. In case your child has an underlying disorder, your doctor will recommend further tests and refer you to a paediatric haematologist who can provide you with more specific information. Overall, keep an eye on your children, ensure a healthy diet, and do not hesitate to talk to your doctor at the first signs of any abnormal behaviour.