• Anemia

    Anemia is a common blood disorder that occurs when the body has fewer red blood cells than normal. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body using a protein called hemoglobin. If there aren’t enough of these cells or this protein, anemia results.

    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 genetic disorders, autoimmune problems, cancers and other diseases. While many types of anemia can be mild and easily corrected, certain types of anemia can be severe, chronic and/or life-threatening.

    Types of anemia include:

    Anemia Treatment at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's

    Children and young adults with anemia are treated at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's through our Blood Disorders Center. Our program brings together world-renown pediatric hematology specialists and support staff from across Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s, including pediatric hematologist/oncologists, hematopathologists, hematology nurse practitioners, social workers and designated hematology patient coordinators. For many appointments and certain procedures, your child can also receive care at one of Boston Children's satellite offices.

    What are the symptoms and causes of anemia?

    Each child may experience anemia symptoms differently. Some of the symptoms included are specific to certain causes of anemia but most are non-specific. Anemia can also be a symptom associated with other diseases. The most frequently noted anemia symptoms include:

    • pale skin, lips, hands or under the eyelids
    • increased heart rate (tachycardia)
    • breathlessness, or difficulty catching a breath (dyspnea)
    • lack of energy, or tiring easily (fatigue)
    • dizziness, or vertigo, especially upon standing
    • headache
    • irritability
    • irregular menstruation cycles
    • absent or delayed menstruation (amenorrhea)
    • sore or swollen tongue (glossitis)
    • jaundice, or yellowing of skin, eyes and mouth
    • enlarged spleen or liver (splenomegaly, hepatomegaly)
    • slow or delayed growth and development
    • impaired wound and tissue healing

    It is important to understand that some symptoms of anemia may resemble those of other more common medical problems or other blood disorders. Because some of these symptoms can also point to other conditions, and because anemia itself can be a symptom of another medical problem, it’s important to have your child evaluated by a qualified medical professional for an accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment.

    Anemia's causes are largely dependent on the type of anemia your child suffers from. The most common causes include:

    • nutritional deficiencies (iron, folic acid or vitamin B12)
    • inherited diseases (e.g., Fanconi anemia, thalassemia, sickle cell anemia)
    • autoimmune diseases
    • bleeding
    • certain cancerous conditions
    • certain medications
    • infections

    How is anemia diagnosed?

    The first step in treating your child is forming an accurate and complete diagnosis. 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. Diagnostic procedures to determine the underlying cause of the anemia may include:

    • complete medical history and physical examination
    • measurement of hematocrit, the percent of red blood cells found in a specific volume of blood
    • hemoglobin electrophoresis to determine the amount and type of hemoglobin in the blood
    • additional blood tests
    • bone marrow aspiration and biopsy

    There may be other diagnostic tests that your doctor will discuss with you depending on your child's individual situation. After we complete all necessary tests, our experts meet to review and discuss what they have learned about your child's condition. Then we will meet with you and your family to discuss the results and outline the best possible treatment options.

    What are the treatments for anemia?

    Depending on the specific cause of your child’s anemia, your child’s physician may recommend a variety of different treatments. Treatments for various forms of anemia may include:

    • vitamin and mineral supplements
    • change in your child's diet
    • medication and/or discontinuing causative medications
    • treatment of the underlying disorder
    • surgery to remove the spleen (if related to certain hemolytic anemias)
    • blood transfusions, if necessary (to replace significant loss)
    • antibiotics (as appropriate if infection is the cause)
    • stem cell transplant (for bone marrow failure, such as aplastic anemia, Fanconi anemia or Diamond-Blackfan anemia)

    Of course, your child's team of doctors will help determine the best approach for your child's unique situation, based on a number of factors including:

    • Your child's age, overall health and medical history
    • The severity of the disease
    • Your child's tolerance for certain medications, procedures or therapies
    • How your child's doctors expect the disease to progress
    • Your opinion and preferences

    What is the latest research on anemia?

    Our physician scientists are conducting innovative research on anemias and red blood cell disorders. We have a long track record of innovation, and Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center is considered a world leader in laboratory and clinical research on blood disorders.

    Clinical Trials

    For many children with rare or hard-to-treat conditions, clinical trials provide new options.Participation in any clinical trial is completely voluntary. We will take care to fully explain all elements of the treatment plan prior to the start of the trial, and you may remove your child from the medical study at any time.

    What is the long-term outlook for children with anemia?

    The long-term outlook for children with anemia depends on the specific cause of the anemia. Some forms of anemia, such as a nutritional deficiency, can be treated quickly and don’t require significant long-term follow-up care.

    In other cases, in which the anemia is caused by a genetic condition or other serious underlying disorder, your child may need regular follow-up by our hematologists. Your child’s physician can discuss your child’s specific care plan.

    We have a number of resources at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s to help you and your family through this time. From the first visit through follow-up care, our nurses will be on hand to walk you through your child’s treatment and help answer any questions you may have.

    If you’d like to talk with someone whose child has been treated for anemia, we can put you in touch with other families who have been through the same experience that you and your child are facing.

  • Appointments, Referrals and Second Opinions

    Phone: 617-355-8246
    Meet the team: Our hematologists
  • Anemia Clinical Trials

    Search our wide range of clinical trials, including trials for anemia and anemia-related disorders.callout bg
  • Treating Blood Disorders

    At Dana-Farber/Boston Children's, your child will have access to a wide range of treatment options for blood disorders, including blood transfusions, surgery, advanced new medications and stem cell transplant.