Is my teenager at risk for anaemia?

Could your teen be anaemic?
Could your teen be anaemic?

It’s the beginning of a new school year and your teen is already exhausted and complaining of frequent headaches. Your first reaction is that it might be the heat and the start of a busy term. Few parents consider the possibility of anaemia, especially when their teen seems healthy.

Why are teenagers especially at risk for anaemia?

The reality is that teenagers are especially at risk for anaemia, especially menstruating teenage girls. Teenagers experience rapid growth spurts, requiring plenty of nutrients, including iron.

Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anaemia. This occurs when the body can’t produce enough oxygen-carrying red blood cells because of a lack of haemoglobin. Anaemia should always be taken seriously, but fortunately, with the help of supplements, iron deficiency anaemia can be rectified.

According to Dr Sue Hubbard, an award-winning paediatrician, adolescent females are more prone to anaemia than adolescent boys because of the loss of menstrual blood each month. It is also possible for teens to have low iron levels without yet being anaemic. Dr Hubbard says that more frequent blood tests should be done in teenagers from the age of 13 to determine whether they have an adequate level of iron in their blood.

Dr Hubbard also states that obese teenagers have a higher occurrence of anaemia than those in a normal weight range, because of a possible lack of certain nutrients.

A diet low in nutrients such as folic acid, vitamin B12 and iron may lead to anaemia. There are also other causes of anaemia, such as chronic diseases and hereditary factors.

Is your teen anaemic?

The main symptom of anaemia is often exhaustion because of the lack of oxygen in the blood. If you notice your teenager struggling to get going in the morning, lacking energy during extramural activities and struggling to get a decent night's sleep, it might be worth checking if they have adequate iron in their diet. Other symptoms you should look out for include:

  • Frequent headaches
  • Lack of concentration
  • Forgetfulness
  • Muscle aches
  • Chest pain
  • Weakness
  • Paleness

If your teenagers presents with any of these symptoms, a visit to the doctor might be worth it. Your doctor will check haemoglobin through blood tests, and if levels are low, will prescribe a suitable iron supplement, as well as advise on lifestyle changes that may help.

Prevent anaemia

While anaemia can be successfully treated, it is important to take preventative measures to ensure a healthy, happy teenager. These are some of the lifestyle factors that can help prevent anaemia.

1. Ensure enough iron and vitamin B12 through diet

Include iron-rich foods in your teenager’s diet. This includes eggs, lean red meat, leafy greens such as spinach, fortified cereals, nuts and legumes. If your teenager follows a vegan or vegetarian diet, monitor their iron intake closely and ensure that they eat plenty of legumes and vegetables that contain iron. You may also need to include a vitamin B12 supplement.

Teen eating a healthy breakfast

2. Regulate their period

If your teenage daughter bleeds heavily during her period, she might be more at risk of developing iron deficiency anaemia. If she complains of heavy periods, it might be a good idea to consult a doctor or gynaecologist to investigate any other underlying causes of heavy periods, such as endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Your doctor might suggest a measure to regulate a heavy flow, such as oral contraceptives.

Girl suffering with heavy periods

3. Encourage a balance

Teenagers may burn the candle at both ends – academic requirements, extramural activities and social life might start taking their toll on your teen’s health. Ensure they get enough sleep and intervene when you suspect that their schedule is too full.

Teenage boy sleeping

Image credits: iStock 

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