Dr. Dean

Does Chewing Ice Mean Iron Deficiency?

Posting Date: 01/29/1999

Pat: My 13-year-old daughter loves to chew ice. Does that mean she has a vitamin deficiency?

Dr. Dean: Chewing ice is called pagophasia, and anyone who does it really should have their blood iron checked. It can be a symptom of iron deficiency anemia.

I got an email the other day from a woman who is an ice chewer, and she said even though her blood iron was close to normal, the craving for ice-chewing went away after she took an iron supplement.

She may not be getting the iron she needs. Of course, not all people who chew ice have low iron, but we have found young teenage girls with low iron may be prone to learning disorders and other kinds of problems, so it is quite important to check it out, especially if she is typical of preteens and teens in her diet.

Another symptom of low iron in kids is when they feel cold and chilly all the time.

You can also have bleeding in your intestines and not know it, and iron deficiency can be a symptom of that condition. This is unlikely in a young person. A little bleeding can slowly deplete hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood) and can lead to problems, especially in an older person.

Ask the doctor to check her iron. You can copy this off the Web site to take with you, so the doctor doesn't think you're nuts.

Measuring iron in your body is not an exact science. It is more complicated than you might think. So even if her iron is okay, you could consider giving her an iron supplement. Don't give her too much, though, because you can overdo it.

I'd also recommend that you keep an eye on her diet. For instance, vegetarianism is fine, but kids sometimes take it to extremes, or get into weird diets.