Iron infusions

 

 

 

 

 

Iron deficiency

 

Iron deficiency is quite a common condition and can often be treated with dietary changes or through daily oral iron supplementation. Supplementation is available as either a tablet or liquid and continue until your levels are back to normal. Sometime iron supplementation proves not to be ineffective, problematic, or won’t work fast enough, so your doctor may recommend an iron infusion.

Iron and your health

Your body needs iron to make haemoglobin, a pigment found in red blood cells. Haemoglobin carries oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. Iron also helps your muscles store and use oxygen.

Iron deficiency, if left untreated, can lead to heart problems, problems during pregnancy, delayed growth and development in infants and children and is associated with an increased susceptibility to infections.

Iron deficiency diagnosis

 

  • Iron deficiency without anaemia is caused by a lack of iron but your haemoglobin levels are in a normal range. This can generally be managed by increasing iron-rich foods into the diet.
  • Iron deficiency anaemia (IDA) is caused by a lack of both iron and haemoglobin. Treatment is an oral iron supplement, either as a tablet or liquid.

Risk of iron deficiency can be reduced by:

  • Consuming iron-rich foods.
  • Enhancing iron absorption by drinking citrus juices or eating food high in vitamin C at the same time you eat high-iron foods.
  • Feeding babies during their first-year breast milk or iron-fortified formula.

Iron deficiency causes

Common causes of iron deficiency include:

  • Blood loss. This can be associated with heavy blood loss during menstruation or other slow, chronic blood loss conditions such as having a peptic ulcer, a hiatal hernia, colon polyp or colorectal cancer.
  • Insufficient consumption of foods containing iron. Vegetarians and vegans can be at high risk as they do not eat iron-rich foods like meat and eggs or might not be getting a sufficient volume of green leafy vegetables.
  • Inability to absorb iron. People with an intestinal disorder such as celiac disease, or have had part of the small intestine bypassed or removed surgically might not be able to absorb adequate iron. Some medications can also interfere with the absorption of iron.
  • Pregnancy. Iron deficiency is quite common with pregnant women as iron stores become depleted in the effort to supply an increased blood volume, as well as provide haemoglobin to the growing foetus.

Signs of iron deficiency

Initial symptoms of iron deficiency are generally mild and may go unnoticed. As you become more deficient in iron, though, signs and symptoms will intensify.

Typically, the first indication of low iron levels is a feeling of tiredness and it might become challenging to carry out a daily routine.

Signs associated with iron deficiency anaemia include:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Pale skin
  • Chest pain, a fast heartbeat or shortness of breath
  • Headache, dizziness or feeling light-headed
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Brittle nails
  • Poor appetite, particularly with infants and children
  • Unusual cravings such as ice, dirt or starch

Iron deficiency conditions should always be diagnosed by your doctor. Do not self-diagnose or start taking iron supplements to treat a suspected iron deficiency condition.

Overloading your body with excess iron can damage your liver and cause other health complications related to excess iron accumulation.

Intravenous (IV) iron infusion process

Make sure you have a current prescription

  • Should standard iron deficiency treatments cause problems or are ineffective, your doctor may prescribe an iron infusion.
  • If you haven’t been prescribed iron infusions at the practice, then you will need to bring your prescription to your appointment.

Iron infusion procedure

There is no special preparation required for an iron infusion.

  • Eat as usual and take your normal medications.
  • We recommend that you drink plenty of fluids, as this will make your veins easier to find.
  • You will be able to drive home as per normal.
  • Prior to the infusion your doctor will consult with you to ensure you understand the benefits and the risks associated with the procedure.
  • The iron infusion takes place in the treatment room and is usually administered by the practice nurse, who will place a cannula (a small tube containing a very fine needle) into your vein, usually on the back of your hand or in your arm.
  • The cannula is then attached to a drip that delivers the medicine mixed with saline directly into your bloodstream.
  • The iron infusion normally takes between 20-30 minutes and during this time the nurse will closely monitor your pulse, breathing rate, the amount of oxygen in your blood, your temperature and blood pressure.

After the iron infusion procedure

  • Once the cannula has been removed you will be asked to stay at the practice for approximately 15-20 minutes prior to going home.
  • You will typically be given a pathology referral and timeframe as to when you should have a blood test.
  • Once you have organised your blood test, then please book an appointment to see your doctor to evaluate the iron infusion impact.

Iron infusion side effects and benefits

 

During your consultation, your doctor will explain the risks and benefits of the iron infusion procedure.

If you are pregnant, you should generally avoid having an iron infusion during the first trimester. Iron infusions are generally considered safe during the second and third trimester. If you’re pregnant your doctor can discuss your treatment options with you and advise on the need for a referral for an iron infusion in hospital if that’s necessary

While each patient responds differently after an iron infusion, most notice improvement of iron deficiency symptoms within a few days, with the full effect being more evident after a couple of weeks. Further blood tests will reveal if another iron infusion is necessary or if the deficiency is manageable with diet and supplements.

Severe reaction to iron infusions are rare. However a severe allergic reaction called Anaphylaxis can occur and iron infusions can lead to an iron tattoo which may be unsightly and permanent. Your doctor will discuss these risks with you before you proceed with an iron infusion.

Common side-effects are:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Flushing
  • Nausea
  • A reaction to where the needle is inserted

If these do not settle down within a few days or are interfering with your normal daily activities, please book an appointment to see your doctor.

Should you experience any significant symptoms such as chest pain or difficulty with breathing or any pain, discomfort or burning at the needle site during or immediately after the infusion, then please inform the nurse immediately. If this occurs once you are at home, then return to the practice or go to your nearest hospital emergency department as soon as possible.

Additional information about iron infusions can be found here.