Common ailments

Anaemia

My teenaged daughter was recently diagnosed with iron deficiency anaemia, and she was advised to start taking iron supplements. What causes anaemia and will my daughter have to take iron supplements indefinitely to help her condition?

Anaemia is where your body produces fewer blood cells than normal or there is less haemoglobin than normal (haemoglobin is the part of the red blood cell that transports oxygen to the body’s organs, and iron is needed to produce haemoglobin).  In either case, it means that less oxygen is being carried around the body. Although there are different types of anaemia, iron deficiency anaemia is the most common type of anaemia in the UK.

Symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia commonly include tiredness, a lack of energy, shortness of breath, a pale complexion and dry nails.

In women, the most common causes of iron deficiency anaemia are heavy periods and pregnancy (as your body needs more iron for the baby). A diet that is lacking in iron can also lead to this type of anaemia and this is especially common in teens and vegetarians. Other possible causes include some conditions affecting the bowel, such as Crohn’s disease. Left untreated, iron deficiency anaemia can make you more prone to illness and infection, as a lack of iron in the body affects your immune system.

Iron supplements are an effective treatment for this type of anaemia and should boost your daughter’s low levels of iron.  Her condition should however be monitored every few months to check the treatment is working and that her iron levels have returned to normal. Once her iron levels return to normal, her GP may advise that she can stop taking iron supplements.

In the meantime, it’s a good idea for your daughter to increase the amount of iron in her daily diet as well. Good sources of iron include red meat and liver in particular, but also eggs, sardines, dark-green leafy vegetables, pulses and beans (particularly lentils), brown rice, nuts and seeds, and dried fruit. Whenever your daughter eats food containing iron, her body will absorb the iron better if she has it alongside something containing vitamin C, for example fruit, vegetables  or fruit juice.

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