Anemia is a condition in which there are too few red cells in the blood or too little iron in the red cells. Sometimes, anemia is caused by too few red cells and too little iron in those cells. There are many different kinds of anemia, and before anyone can be cured of the condition, it is necessary to find out what type of anemia is present.
Children frequently do become anemic and, as a result, they may tire easily and have very little pep. Also, anemic children are much more likely to get infections than those who have the right number of red blood cells and the right amount of iron in those red cells.
When we say that the blood has insufficient iron, we really mean that there is too little hemoglobin in the red cells. Hemoglobin gives blood its red color, and it is the hemoglobin within the red cells that carries the oxygen from the lungs to all the tissues of the body. To have a sufficient amount of hemoglobin, we must have a sufficient amount of iron. It is the iron that makes the hemoglobin.
Every cell, every organ, every tissue in the body, requires an adequate supply of oxygen in order to work properly. If there are too few red cells circulating in the arteries, or if the red cells don’t contain enough iron, then the organs and tissues won’t receive the necessary amount of oxygen.
People used to think that a well- nourished, heavy, or overweight child couldn’t be anemic. But we now know that even the huskiest child may be anemic if his diet contains too few vitamins or too little iron or other important minerals. It is simple for a child to stuff himself with candy and cake, or other fattening foods, yet neglect to eat the proper amounts of meats and vegetables and fruits that are so full of vitamins and iron and other necessary minerals. People also used to believe that a child had to look pale in order to be anemic. We now know that lots of children can look healthy and still be anemic. Aiid some youngsters can look pale and not be anemic at all.
Many girls and boys can have a mild anemia without even knowing it. It is only when the anemia continues without treatment that a child begins to lose energy, shows weakness in his muscles, loses his appetite, tires easily, and seems to lose interest in his schoolwork and playmates. We must remember that the brain needs tremendous amounts of oxygen to function at its best, and if a child has a severe anemia, the brain is just not going to get all the oxygen it needs.
Anemia can be diagnosed simply by pricking the finger with a needle and performing an examination of a little blood under a microscope. Doctors call this examination a blood count. It includes testing to see if there is enough hemoglobin in the red cells and a count to see if there are the right number of red blood cells. Other tests are done, too, in order to distinguish one type of anemia from another. This is important because the treatment will depend upon what type of anemia is present.
Here are some of the various forms of treatment that might be carried out to cure an anemia:
1. If a child is anemic because he has lost a great deal of blood in an accident, a blood transfusion may be given. As we have mentioned elsewhere, the bone marrow manufactures new blood very rapidly. Within a few days, a child may regain all the blood he requires, and it is therefore necessary to give a transfusion only when really large amounts of blood have been lost.
2. If the anemia has resulted fro some long-lasting illness, it can be cured only when the long-lasting illness has cleared up. For example, if a chil has had a serious kidney infection tha has kept him in bed for several wee he will probably develop anemia. Tha anemia will only disappear when the kidney infection is cured.
3. Certain kinds of anemia occur children who suffer from repeated atItacks of diarrhea (loose bowel move: The diarrhea interferes with the absorption of substances that are necessary to form iron and red blood cells. This type of anemia will not clear up until the diarrhea is cured.
4. The commonest type of anemia is due to insufficient iron in the red cells. It is treated by making sure the child eats a proper diet, including plenty of foods rich in iron and other minerals. It can also be treated by giving the child iron pills or, once in a while, by giving injections of iron. Children should remember that liver, meats, green vegetables, and certain fruits contain iron.
5. There are several rather rare kinds of anemia that are present from the time a child is born. For some of these anemias, treatment is difficult. There are certain anemias that require repeated blood transfusions to keep the child healthy; others are often benefited by removing the spleen. One of the spleen’s functions is to destroy old red cells, and it has been found that sometimes the spleen destroys healthy red cells as well.
6. Occasionally, a girl will develop anemia when she reaches puberty and starts to change from a child into a woman. Because of this tendency, it is pretty important that older girls make sure to get plenty of iron in their diet when they approach the teen years.
The red blood cells of a person suffering from anemia (right) are a very light pink when stained, and they are often less round and full when viewed under a microscope. The round, plump bodies of normal red blood cells (left), when stained, are a bright pinkish-red. Hemoglobin is the substance that gives normal cells their bright color.