What to Expect From Iron Infusions

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Iron is a chemical element that is plentiful in many of the foods we eat every day. But if you’re not getting enough iron in your diet, or if you have certain medical conditions that can cause your iron levels to be low, you could develop a condition called iron-deficiency anemia. This type of anemia is the most common form of anemia worldwide, and it can cause significant symptoms that negatively impact your quality of life.

Normally, iron enters your body through the foods you eat. After your food is broken down by your digestive system, iron is absorbed into your bloodstream by certain cells in your small intestine. After it’s absorbed, iron is used by your bone marrow to produce new red blood cells, which carry oxygen to your body’s tissues. If you don’t have enough iron in your system, you could develop iron-deficiency anemia, which can make it difficult for your body to get the oxygen it needs. In most cases, this type of anemia is mild and easily correctable, but you may need further treatment if your condition is more severe.

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Fortunately, iron infusions are a good treatment option for people with iron-deficiency anemia who also have certain problems that prevent them from trying other common treatments, like oral medications. If you can’t take oral medications, your doctor can help you determine whether iron infusions may be right for you.

Why do I need an iron infusion?

If you have iron-deficiency anemia, you may have already experienced some of the symptoms of this condition that can make life more difficult, such as extreme fatigue, muscle weakness, dizziness or lightheadedness, headache, feeling colder than usual, shortness of breath, and chest pain.

Often, this condition is treated by simple oral iron supplements that can be taken on a daily basis. However, depending on certain factors, including your medical history and your ability to tolerate the side effects, you may not be able to take oral iron supplements. If your iron level is dangerously low, intravenous (IV) iron is given in order to quickly raise your body’s iron level. You may also need an iron infusion if you:

  • Have celiac disease

  • Have certain types of cancer and are taking medications to increase the production of red blood cells, called erythropoietin-simulating agents

  • Have certain types of inflammatory bowel diseases, like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis

  • Have digestive tract bleeding

What will my iron infusion be like?

Iron infusions are performed at your doctor’s office or in a hospital setting. Your doctor will need to monitor you for any signs of a severe allergic reaction, including difficulty breathing, rash, and extreme itching. Most people who receive iron infusions experience no or minimal side effects, but it’s still important for your doctor to be nearby.

You may be asked to sit or lie down on an examination table to receive your iron infusion. Iron will be given to you through a needle that enters one of your veins (IV). The treatment can take several hours, depending on the severity of your anemia. You may also need to have several iron infusions before your iron levels return to normal.

It’s important to let your doctor know immediately about any significant side effects you experience after your infusion, such as any swelling in your face, arms, hands, legs or feet, blurred vision, or dizziness or fainting, especially after you stand up. You may also experience a change in the taste of your food, or diarrhea and muscle cramps after receiving an infusion. Many people have little to no side effects, but it’s still important to talk with your doctor if anything out of the ordinary happens after your treatment. Depending on any side effects you experience, your doctor may suggest another form of treatment.

While iron infusions aren’t for everyone, they are an effective treatment choice if you can’t take oral iron supplements. The process of receiving an iron infusion is relatively simple, but there are still precautions that must be taken to prevent any serious side effects from occurring. By talking with your doctor, you can determine whether this treatment option may be the best choice for managing your iron-deficiency anemia.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Oct 9

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

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