Dr. Lisa Thornton, a
mother of three, writes the Health Matters monthly
column for Chicago Parent as is the voice behind "The Doctor is In," a Chicago Parent
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power of touch
Is your child feeling run down or tired, irritable
and looking a little pale? It might just be the long Chicago
winter, but it might be something to have your doctor check. Anemia
is very common in children and, in most cases, easily treated.
Anemia is a description, not a disease. It means there are
not enough red blood cells in the blood or not enough hemoglobin
within the red blood cells themselves.
Red blood cells are really beautiful. Pull up an image of
them on your computer and you'll see cells that are round,
valentine-red, and look like doughnuts with the hole partially
filled in. Red blood cells are supposed to be a certain size and be
filled with a certain amount of hemoglobin, which gives them their
color. The function of hemoglobin, and therefore red blood cells,
is to carry oxygen to all of the tissues of the body.
When the red blood cells aren't the right size or don't
contain the right amount of hemoglobin, the blood cannot deliver
the right amount of oxygen to the tissues and that person has
Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia in
children. Iron is also important for proper brain function.
Children who don't get enough iron have anemia, but they also have
poorer cognition, lower school achievement and more behavioral
problems. Iron deficiency used to be much more common in the U.S.,
but now pasta, rice, cereals and flour used in baked goods are
often fortified with iron, so it's less common today. Yet poor diet
remains the number one reason for iron deficiency in
Anemia is diagnosed through a routine blood test and iron
deficiency is so common that when anemia is diagnosed in a child,
it is typical simply to give a trial of iron therapy (a liquid or
pill taken by mouth) for about a month and then do another blood
test to see if the anemia is resolving. If the blood count doesn't
go up with iron therapy, more testing is done to explore other
reasons for the anemia.
Lead poisoning is another common cause of anemia in
children. It is associated with learning disabilities, growth
problems, poor attention and increased aggression. Children are
most commonly exposed to lead by the eating paint chips in old
homes (lead was in paint prior to 1977) or dirt contaminated with
lead. Recently there have been highly publicized stories of
lead-based paint being used on children's toys. If lead poisoning
is found, treatment may be needed to remove the lead from the
Dr. Lisa Thornton, a mother of three, is director of pediatric rehabilitation at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital and LaRabida Children’s Hospital. She also is assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago.
See more of Dr. Thornton's stories here.
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