The signs & symptoms of anemia in teens


Iron-deficiency anaemia is the number one nutritional deficiency in the United States. Teenagers are particularly susceptible to anaemia due to several physical and social factors.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 75 per cent of teenage girls don't get enough iron in their diet, compared to only 17 per cent of teenage boys. The effects of iron deficiency range from mild to severe. However, even mild anaemia can leave a teenager feeling weak and tired.


Iron-deficiency anaemia is a deficiency of haemoglobin in red blood cells. Haemoglobin is an iron-rich protein that transports oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. The most common form of anaemia in teens is iron-deficiency anaemia. When a body does not get enough iron, haemoglobin production is reduced, which in turn reduces the supply of oxygen to the body, which in turn makes people pale, weak and tired. The CDC recommends that teen boys between the ages of 14 to18 years get 8 mg of iron a day. Teen girls ages 14 to18 years should get 15 mg a day. Another type of anaemia is aplastic anaemia. This a rare and very serious disorder in which the body does not produce enough blood cells. This article will focus on iron-deficiency anaemia.


Iron supplies deplete slowly and anaemia symptoms are not always obvious. A simple blood test to check haemoglobin levels is the best way to determine if a teen is anaemic. Still, there are some physical signs parents may notice. One of the most obvious signs of anaemia is facial colouring. Anaemic teens are pale and sometimes have dark circles under their eyes. Anaemic teens are also weak and tired and may complain of dizziness. Increased irritability is also symptomatic of anaemia. Anemia may cause a rapid heartbeat or a swollen tongue.

Physical Risk Factors

Physical and lifestyle factors put teens at risk of iron-deficiency anaemia. The teen years are the growth spurt years. Increased iron intake is needed to feed the body's demand for increased red blood cell production. Teen girls lose iron through menstruation. Teens with heavy periods are at greater risk for anaemia. Endurance sports and intense physical training puts teen athletes at risk. Again, red blood production can't keep up with the increased need to feed oxygen to working tissue and muscles.

Dietary Risk Factors

Fast food temptations, hectic schedules and negative body image all contribute to iron deficiency in teens. School, sports and social schedules preclude ingestion of three well-balanced meals a day. Iron-rich foods such as meat and green leafy vegetables are overlooked as teens grab fries, chips or candy for a quick hunger fix. Frequent dieting is an anaemia risk. Obviously, teens with eating disorders are at greatest risk of anaemia and other health issues. Teens choosing a vegan, vegetarian or other meatless diet don't get the iron benefits of red meat, poultry and fish.


Natural iron intake through an iron-rich diet is the best way to stave off anaemia. Iron-rich foods include red meats, fish, poultry, egg yolks and dried beans. Green leafy vegetables are a good source for iron. These include spinach, asparagus, broccoli, kale, collard greens and mustard greens. Certain foods are fortified with iron. The foods most commonly fortified include bread, cereal, pasta, rice, oatmeal and grits. Once anaemic, diet alone may not be enough to bring iron levels back into the normal range. Physicians often prescribe supplements to boost iron levels. The CDC recommends anaemic teens take 60 mg of elemental iron once or twice a day. Most iron supplements can be purchased without a prescription but there are different forms of iron: ferrous and ferric. Talk with a physician to determine what form will work best for the teen in question. Also, be aware that iron supplements may have unpleasant side effects, such as constipation and stomach upset.