• Childhood Anemia

    Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body using a protein called hemoglobin. If there aren’t enough of these cells or this protein, a condition called anemia results.

    One of the most common pediatric disorders, anemia is often a symptom of a disease rather than a disease itself. In some cases, anemia is temporary and caused by a nutritional deficiency or blood loss. In others, it’s the result of a chronic or inherited condition, including autoimmune problems, genetic disorders, cancers and other diseases. Severe anemia can be life-threatening.

    Anemia Treatment at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's

    Children and young adults with anemia are treated at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center through our Blood Disorders Center. Continue reading to learn more about anemia or visit the Blood Disorders Center homepage to learn about our expertise and treatment options for this condition.

    Symptoms & Diagnosis

    The following are the most common symptoms of anemia, although some of those listed are specific to certain causes of anemia:

    • Pale skin, lips or hands
    • Paleness under the eyelids
    • Breathlessness, or difficulty catching a breath (dyspnea)
    • Lack of energy, or tiring easily (fatigue)
    • Dizziness or vertigo, especially upon standing
    • Headache
    • Irritability
    • Irregular menstrual cycles
    • Absent or delayed menstruation (amenorrhea)
    • Sore or swollen tongue (glossitis)
    • Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin, eyes and mouth
    • Enlarged spleen (splemomegaly) or liver (hepatomegaly)
    • Slowed or delayed growth and development
    • Impaired wound and tissue healing

    Because anemia is often a symptom associated with another disease, it is important for a child’s doctor to be aware of any symptoms the child may be experiencing.

    Anemia is usually discovered during a medical exam through simple blood tests that measure the concentration of hemoglobin and the number of red blood cells. In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures to determine the underlying cause of the anemia may include:

    • Hematocrit – the measurement of the percent of red blood cells found in a specific volume of blood
    • Hemoglobin electrophoresis – a test to determine the amount and type of hemoglobin in the blood
    • Additional blood tests
    • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy

    After all tests are completed, doctors will be able to outline the best treatment options.

    Treatment & Care Options

    Depending on the specific cause of a child’s anemia, a physician may recommend a variety of different treatments, including:

    Long-term Outlook

    The long-term outlook for children with anemia depends on the specific cause of the anemia. Some forms of anemia, such as nutritional deficiency, can be treated quickly and don’t require significant long-term follow-up care. When the anemia is caused by a genetic condition or other serious underlying disorder, a child may need regular follow-up care by a hematologist.
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