Iron Deficiency Anemia (IDA) – Symptoms, Side Effects | Pediatric Oncall
Last Updated : 5/3/2010
M R Lokeshwar*, Nitin Shah**
Effects of iron deficiency anemia are well know since ages and it is well established that iron deficiency is a systemic disorder involving multiple systems, rather than purely hematological condition associated with anemia.

Age incidence: IDA is most common in the 6 months to 3 years and 11 years to 17 years age groups. In all age groups, development of anemia is almost always insidious and it may go unnoticed till Hb concentration drops to as low as 3 - 4 gm%.

Features due to anemia: In mild anemia, there may be no signs and symptoms but a definite sense of well being and better exercise tolerance is observed following treatment. In severe deficiency, all the symptoms of anemia like fatigue, breathlessness, irritability, anorexia etc. may be seen. Spleen is often enlarged slightly, but is of normal consistency.

Other features: Deletion of non-haem iron contained in tissue proteins is responsible for various other manifestations like:

- Pica: It is a well-documented symptom but unexplainable. Pica is a habitual ingestion of unusual substances, the most common of which is eating mud or clay (Geophagia), laundry starch (amylophagia) and ice (pagophagia). Pica usually is the manifestation of iron deficiency and is relieved when condition is treated. Clay can behave in the gut as an exchange resin and can interfere with iron absorption.

- Changes in Epithelial cells: These include koilonychia, platynychia, angular stomatitis, atrophic glossitis and mucosal changes in the stomach and small bowel leading to mucosal web as seen in Plummer Wilson syndrome, Patterson Kelly syndrome which are rare in children.

- Growth retardation: There is a marked reduction in weight in iron deficient children, thought height seems to be unaffected.

- Exercise intolerance: Maximum work capacity, work output and endurance are impaired in iron deficiency state. This is due to reduction in the mitochondrial enzyme - alpha glycophosphatase dehydrogenase besides anemia. Study in Indonesia demonstrated a correlation between the work output of latex tapper and hemoglobin concentration. Work output was significantly less (19%) from tappers with iron deficiency anemia than from non-anemic tappers. Similarly, another study found a significant decrease in the area of the ground cleared of weeds by anemic laborers as compared with their non-anemic counterparts.

The study done at Sri Lanka demonstrated a significantly smaller work output by anemic tea-pickers. In some of the studies, work output increased significantly following correction of anemia by administration of iron.

- Behavioral changes: Theses changes occur due to diminished activity of aldehyde oxidase, required for serotonin catabolism, thus leading to increased levels of serotonin and 6 - hydroxyindole compounds. MAO which is also required for catabolism of catecholamine is also reduced. Reduced attention span, irritability, decreased scholastic performance, poor academic achievement and conduct disorders occur in these iron deficient children.

In Egypt and Java, deficiency in the mental performance of school children were reversible with the treatment. They have shown in their study that intravenous iron administration reverses low scores of cognitive function even before hemoglobin rises. Behavior studies in Young iron deficient rats, before and after iron replacement, have shown that rats are less responsive to environmental stimuli when iron deficient.

In a study of iron deficiency in the rat, depletion of total non-haem iron and ferritin iron in the brain established shortly after the time of weaning, could not be reversed inspite of continuous supply of iron from that time until adult life. Study done by Dalmann et al have shown lower mental and psychomotor development index score significantly lower than control infants. Anemic infants failed specifically in language capabilities, body balance, co-ordination skills when compared with control. Iron deficiency affect attention span and memory control rather than information processing and retrieval. Webb and Oski also have found poor scholastic performance in anemic students. Gopaldas & associates noted substantial improvement in cognitive function in anemic children after treatment with iron.

Lokeshwar et al in their study of 36 children between the age group of 6 months to 18 months, demonstrated impairment of cognitive function in iron deficient children and there was significant improvement in MDI (Mental Development Index) and PDI (Psychomotor Development Index) after iron therapy.

- Altered host response: Iron deficiency affects both cell mediated as well as humoral immunity, though phagocytic activity may be normal. Killing of E.coli and Staph. Aureus is reduced. In contrast, some studies state that immunity is enhanced in iron deficient state. This is due to increased unsaturated transferrin which inhibits bacterial growth and hence high dose IV iron therapy could be harmful in such cases. However oral iron therapy only minimally changes saturation of transferrin and hence practically it does not have any adverse effect on incidence of infection. In several studies, results show that infants who receive iron supplementary formulae have fewer episodes of respiratory and gastrointestinal infections than those who receive unsupplemented formula.


Contributor Information and Disclosures

M R Lokeshwar*, Nitin Shah**
*Visiting Pediatrician - P.D.Hinduja National Hospital, Mumbai Pediatrician and Hematologist-Oncologist,Lilavati Hospital, Bandra, Mumbai. **Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, Dept of Pediatrics, LTMG Hospital & LTM Medical College, Sion, Mumbai - 400 022.

First Created : 2/8/2001
Last Updated : 5/3/2010


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