In many cases, doctors don’t diagnose anemia until they run blood tests as part of a routine physical examination. A complete blood count (CBC) may indicate that there are fewer red blood cells than normal. Other diagnostic tests may include:
- Blood smear examination: Blood is smeared on a glass slide for microscopic examination of RBCs, which can sometimes indicate the cause of the anemia
- Iron tests: These include total serum iron and ferritin tests, which can help to determine whether anemia is due to iron deficiency
- Hemoglobin electrophoresis: Used to identify various abnormal hemoglobins in the blood and to diagnose sickle cell anemia, the thalassemias, and other inherited forms of anemia
- Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy: This test can help determine whether cell production is happening normally in the bone marrow. It’s the only way to diagnose aplastic anemia definitively and is also used if a disease affecting the bone marrow (such as leukemia) is a suspected cause of the anemia
- Reticulocyte count: A measure of young RBCs, this helps to determine if production of red blood cells is at normal levels
In addition to running these tests, your kids’ doctor may ask about a family history of anemia and your children’s symptoms and medications. This may lead the doctor to perform other tests to look for specific diseases that might be causing the anemia.