What Is an Infusion Chair for Anemia?

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woman sitting in infusion chair with tablet
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Your body needs plenty of healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen around your body. But first, those red blood cells need iron in order to produce a molecule, called hemoglobin, that enables them to carry out that important job. Without enough iron, your red blood cells can’t produce enough hemoglobin to deliver adequate amounts of oxygen to all the corners of your body. And your body really needs that oxygen-rich blood to function effectively and maintain your health.

We call the condition that results from low iron levels or low numbers of healthy red blood cells “iron-deficiency anemia.” The best way to address this problem is to increase your iron levels. For many people, that can be accomplished with an iron-rich diet and iron pills. But some people need something extra—an iron infusion received in an infusion chair at the doctor’s office or hospital.

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When is an iron infusion necessary?

Many people who develop iron-deficiency anemia use a combination of iron-rich foods and an oral iron supplement to bring up their iron levels. They consume lots of dark green veggies that are rich in iron, like spinach and kale, and they take an iron pill every day, too—a typical dose to address anemia is 300 mg of ferrous sulfate daily.

But oral iron supplements can cause uncomfortable gastrointestinal (GI) side effects like constipation, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Some people can’t tolerate those side effects. For example, some people are iron deficient as a result of a gastrointestinal disorder that makes it hard for them to absorb enough iron, like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. These patients may find that an oral iron supplement can further irritate their GI tracts. In order to boost their iron levels, they may need to get intravenous (IV) infusions of iron into their bloodstream. Additionally, some people with very severe anemia also need to undergo IV iron therapy to get their iron levels up to where they should be.

How does iron infusion work?

You can take an iron pill at home, but you must undergo IV iron therapy at a clinic or hospital, under the supervision of a healthcare professional.

Your doctor will talk to you beforehand about what to expect. For example, many experts suggest wearing loose, comfortable clothes to your appointment, in case you experience any swelling as a side effect from the treatment. Your doctor will also talk to you about other possible side effects that you may experience during or after receiving an IV infusion of iron.

After you arrive at the clinic or doctor’s office, the staff will show you to an infusion chair and make sure that you are comfortably seated. (Some people also prefer to recline—you can always ask the clinic staff if you can lie down if that’s helpful for you). Some clinics may have private rooms, where you can be alone during your treatment, but others may have a group treatment room with many chairs.

Once you’re seated and ready, the nurse will establish an IV line by inserting a needle into one of your veins that delivers a sterile saline solution. A small test dose of the iron preparation is injected into the IV line to assess your body’s response. If there are no sensitivity issues, the full dose of iron will drip slowly from a second bag that mixes with the saline. The infusion may take several hours, depending on the amount and type of treatment that you’re receiving. While you’re sitting in the infusion chair, you may want to read or listen to music, or you may even doze off. After the infusion is complete, the staff may want to monitor you for a short period of time.

How many visits to the infusion chair will you need to make? The short answer: it depends. Depending on your treatment regimen, you may have to return for several more infusion sessions. Your doctor will monitor your iron levels and any conditions that may have contributed to your iron-deficiency anemia and then make a plan together with you. Fortunately, most patients require only a few infusions before their iron levels are back to healthy levels.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Oct 9
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. How Is Iron-Deficiency Anemia Treated? National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/ida/treatment

  2. Intravenous Iron Supplementation. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/intravenous-iron-supplementation

  3. Iron-Deficiency Anemia. American Society of Hematology. http://www.hematology.org/Patients/Anemia/Iron-Deficiency.aspx