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Ask Dr. K: Iron deficit in teen girls treatable

Anthony L. Komaroff M.D.

DEAR DOCTOR K: My teenage daughter recently learned that she has iron deficiency and anemia. Why would her iron be low? What is the treatment?

DEAR READER: Anemia means that the blood does not have enough red blood cells. These cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. There are many kinds of anemia. In the United States, iron-deficiency anemia is the most common; it occurs when the body does not have enough iron to make red blood cells.

Inside every red blood cell is the protein called hemoglobin, which carries oxygen (an essential source of energy) to every cell in your body. Iron is a part of hemoglobin.

Iron enters our body in food and leaves the body primarily when we bleed. That’s why teenage girls are particularly susceptible to iron-deficiency anemia: They have begun to have monthly menstrual bleeding.

Symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia may include pale skin, tiredness, dizziness, lightheadedness, headaches or ringing in the ears. The condition is diagnosed with a blood test.

Iron-deficiency anemia is usually treated with iron supplements. The doctor will do follow-up blood tests to make sure the anemia has gone away or at least is improving.

Iron is best absorbed when given between meals.

Vitamin C makes it easier for the body to absorb iron. But calcium makes it harder, so your daughter should not take her supplement with milk.

You should also try to increase the amount of iron-rich foods in your daughter’s diet. These include: lean meats, poultry and fish; iron-fortified cereals, breads and pasta; dried fruits (apricots, raisins, prunes); leafy green vegetables; whole grains (brown rice, wheat germ, bran muffins); beans, peas and nuts; and eggs.

Teenage girls who have begun to have menstrual periods can help prevent iron-deficiency anemia by taking a multivitamin with iron. The Recommended Dietary Allowance for iron is 8 milligrams per day for females ages 9 to 13 years, and 15 mg per day for females ages 14 to 18 years.

Iron deficiency in teenage girls is common, easily diagnosed and easily treated.

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