Anemia is a common blood disorder in which the body’s supply of healthy red blood cells is too low. Many things can cause anemia, including nutritional problems, inherited disorders, infections and some forms of cancer. Among toddlers, however, the major cause of anemia is iron deficiency, according to KidsHealth.org. The signs and symptoms of anemia in toddlers vary, depending on how severe the anemia is.
The supply of iron stored in the body depletes slowly, so many toddlers with iron-deficiency anemia don’t show any symptoms during its early stages. If the anemia never progresses past the mild stage, you may never see any signs. However, when the anemia does progress, many of the symptoms that appear are typical of normal toddler behavior and may be dismissed as “just being tired and cranky.”
According to the National Anemia Action Council, the first noticeable symptoms of anemia in toddlers are abnormal tiredness, weakness and irritability. The nail beds may not be as pink as normal, and the toddler’s color in general may seem a bit “off.”
As anemia progresses, your toddler may become even more tired and irritable and have pale skin and lips. Other symptoms include loss of appetite, rapid heartbeat, cold feet and hands, and a lightheaded or dizzy feeling. Slow growth and development are also signs of anemia in toddlers.
A rare symptom of anemia in toddlers is a condition known as pica. Pica is a compulsive craving to eat nonfood items such as dirt, chalk, soap or paint chips. Most toddlers put nonfood items in their mouth from time to time, but those with pica go beyond normal curiosity and exploration. The lack of iron in the body may play a role in triggering pica cravings.
Iron-deficiency anemia in toddlers can lead to serious conditions, so symptoms should not be ignored. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, iron-deficiency anemia in infants and preschool children can cause developmental delays and behavioral problems, such as poor social interaction, inability to pay attention to tasks and slow motor activity. Without full reversal of the iron deficiency, these developmental delays can continue past school age.