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Iron infusion side effects are possible for some people, but having these infusions can also be very beneficial. We cover everything you should know about iron infusions, and in particular, the potential iron infusion side effects to be aware of.
What is an Iron Infusion?
If you have iron-deficiency anemia, your doctor may prescribe you an iron infusion.
During an iron infusion, you receive intravenous iron. That means the iron goes directly into your vein via a needle. This type of medication delivery is also called intravenous infusion.
It’s common that before prescribing intravenous iron, your doctor will recommend that you take an over-the-counter supplement or perhaps a prescription iron supplement in pill form. Your doctor might also recommend dietary and lifestyle changes before advising that you have an infusion.
There are certain situations where your doctor might advise that you do an iron infusion in particular.
For example, you may not be able to absorb iron through your gut, or you might not be able to take it by mouth.
Some people can’t absorb enough iron because of blood loss, or you may need to increase your levels rapidly to avoid medical complications.
Before you receive an iron infusion, your doctor will go over instructions with you and what to expect.
You’ll probably do it in an infusion center that may be located in your doctor’s office or perhaps in a hospital.
A health care provider will use a needle and then insert a tube into your vein, typically in your hand or arm. There may be a slight pinch or some pressure, but it shouldn’t be especially painful.
Iron infusions can take several hours, and you’ll stay seated during that time. Your doctor may want to do the infusion very slowly, which helps reduce the risk of complications.
You may need several infusions over the course of a few weeks to get your iron levels to a normal range.
An iron infusion is not the same thing as an iron injection.
Iron injections are inserted into your muscle with a needle. Rather than it taking several hours, an iron injection takes just a few minutes, and you get the full dose of iron all at once.
What Are the Benefits of Iron Infusions?
If your doctor is recommending iron infusions to treat your anemia, you may be wondering what the benefits are.
Iron infusions can quickly increase your iron levels, more so than taking supplements or making changes to your diet.
A lot of people find that they enjoy benefits in how they feel after infusions, including better breathing and increased energy levels. It may take a few weeks to really feel these benefits. Getting an iron infusion can lead to benefits that last a few months up to a few years. You might then begin other types of iron therapy, such as taking a supplement, to keep up the benefits of your infusion.
Pregnant women may get iron infusions as prescribed by their doctor. Pregnant women need more iron because the fetus is absorbing iron from her body. That can lead to anemia in the mother.
When a pregnant woman takes iron infusions, it can be preferential to supplements because it helps her avoid gastrointestinal side effects.
What Are Iron Infusion Side Effects?
People often wonder what are the side effects of iron infusion and how long do iron infusion side effects last.
As with most things in medicine, there are potential iron infusion side effects to be aware of. Mild potential side effects of iron infusions include:
- Temporary changes in the taste of food or drinks
- Nausea, vomiting, or gastrointestinal pain
- Itchiness or rash
- Changes in heart rate or blood pressure
- Muscle or joint pain
Severe but very rare iron infusion side effects can include:
- Very low blood pressure, known as hypotension
- Loss of consciousness
While iron infusion side effects are very rare, the potential for them to occur and to possibly be severe is why doctors will give the infusion so slowly. They can monitor to ensure you aren’t going to experience serious side effects of the iron infusion or that you aren’t allergic to it.
Iron toxicity is another rare but possible one of the iron infusion side effects to be aware of. Iron toxicity symptoms can occur quickly and lead to anaphylactic shock, but they can also occur slowly over time.
For the vast majority of people, there won’t be any iron infusion side effects, and if you do experience any, they’re likely going to be mild.
How long do iron infusion side effects last? This depends on the person, but again they should be fairly short-term.
You should go over any concerns you may have about iron infusion side effects with your doctor.
You should likely be able to drive yourself home or to work after your infusion and continue your normal activities right away unless your doctor tells you otherwise.
Understanding Iron Deficiency Anemia
If you’re asking what are iron infusion side effects, then it’s likely you’ve been diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia. Anemia occurs when your red blood cells have a lower level of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein in your red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout your body and to your tissues.
There are many types of anemia, and iron deficiency is the most common type.
If your body doesn’t have enough iron, which is a mineral, you can’t make hemoglobin. If you don’t have enough iron, then that also means your body isn’t getting enough oxygen.
For women who haven’t gone through menopause, the most common reason for iron deficiency anemia is menstruation. Other common reasons for iron deficiency anemia include diet and having intestinal diseases that affect absorption.
What Are the Symptoms of Iron Deficiency Anemia
Iron deficiency anemia can significantly affect your quality of life, but it may be years before you even realize you have it. Symptoms include:
- Pale skin
- Shortness of breath
- Strange cravings for things like ice
- Tingling in the legs
- Cold hands and feet
- Irregular or fast heartbeat
- Brittle nails
What Are the Causes of Iron Deficiency Anemia?
Some of the possible causes of iron deficiency anemia can include:
- Blood loss because of menstruation
- Internal bleeding caused by something like an ulcer or colon cancer
- Problems absorbing iron because of conditions like celiac disease
Women, people over 65, and vegetarians are among the people most likely to have iron deficiency anemia. Also, if you are on a blood thinner like aspirin or Plavix or have kidney failure, you could be at risk of iron deficiency anemia.
How is Iron Deficiency Anemia Treated?
There are a few different ways that a doctor might advise treating iron deficiency anemia.
Iron supplements are one way. There are iron tablets, and there are also liquid iron supplements. When possible, taking iron on an empty stomach will help your body better absorb them. It can take months for supplements to raise your iron levels. The biggest side effects of iron supplements are black stools and constipation.
If your diet is the reason for your anemia, making changes can help. Foods that help with iron deficiency anemia include red meat, dark, leafy greens, nuts, and dried fruits.
Having vitamin C with foods high in iron will help your body better absorb it.
If the cause of your anemia is bleeding, then that will need to be treated to reverse your deficiency. For example, if you have heavy periods, your doctor might prescribe birth control pills to help reduce your bleeding.
You shouldn’t try to treat iron deficiency on your own without the advice of your doctor. If you take too much iron or you have too much in your blood, complications can include liver damage.
Final Thoughts—Side Effects of Iron Infusions
The potential iron infusion side effects you could experience are usually minimal and may include headache or nausea. Overall, if your doctor has prescribed it to you, they have probably decided iron infusion side effects aren’t worse than the risks of not treating your iron deficiency. Most iron infusions are reserved for severe cases of iron deficiency anemia, and not all anemia is related to iron deficiency.