Iron is a mineral in your body that forms hemoglobin, which is the component that makes it possible for red blood cells to deliver oxygen throughout your body. Without the right amount of iron in your blood, your body cannot produce enough hemoglobin, and this may cause you to develop a condition known as iron-deficiency anemia.
You can increase your iron levels by eating foods that contain high amounts of iron. Meats that are high in iron are red meat, turkey, fish, and shellfish. Iron-rich vegetables include spinach, legumes, and broccoli. Even dark chocolate is high in iron. You can also take an iron supplement to increase your iron levels.
However, you may not be able to take iron orally, and you may need to receive it intravenously instead.
This article will discuss as follows:
- What intravenous (IV) iron is, and how does it work
- What is iron-deficiency anemia
- Who is at risk for iron-deficiency anemia
- Who needs iron infusions
- Differences between iron injections and iron IV infusions
- Potential side effects and risks of getting an iron IV infusion
- Effectiveness of iron infusions
- How to have an iron IV done safely
What is intravenous iron, and how is it given?
Intravenous (IV) iron supplementation delivers iron to your body directly into a vein, usually in the crook of your arm or on the back of your hand. A small needle is used to make an opening in the vein for a small, flexible plastic tube to be inserted. One end of the tube is inserted into your vein, and the other end of the tube is connected to a bag that contains the liquid iron supplement and rests on a metal stand next to you.
The process of the treatment can take three to four hours or longer, depending on the amount of iron you need. You will likely need several courses of iron IV treatments, which will be given over the span of at least one week but probably over the course of three weeks. The treatments are given slowly in order to reduce the chances of a serious side effect known as iron toxicity.
Another measure your doctor or nurse will take to ensure that you do not suffer any negative side effects is to give you a test dose of intravenous iron before giving you a full dose. If you have any complications related to the test dose, your healthcare provider will not continue with the iron infusions.
Although iron infusions take hours to complete, they are actually the fastest way to increase your iron levels. This is because the iron goes directly into your bloodstream instead of having to go through your digestive system the way food and oral supplements do. Once the iron is in your bloodstream, it goes to work right away to increase the level of hemoglobin in your red blood cells. Food and oral iron supplements take hours to go through your digestive system before they can be used for their actual purpose, to increase your hemoglobin levels. Therefore, although iron IVs take hours to administer, they start working immediately instead of hours later.
After the infusion is finished, you can go about your usual activities. You will most likely be able to drive yourself home. You can go back to work, as well, if you feel up to it.
What is iron-deficiency anemia?
There are a number of symptoms of iron deficiency anemia that you should look out for. You may look pale and feel tired. You may have trouble breathing. Your body may feel cold or notice that your hands and feet are colder than usual. You can develop infections caused by immune system issues. This type of anemia can also cause headaches, dizziness, and rapid heartbeat.
Who is at risk for iron deficiency anemia?
Anyone can develop iron-deficiency anemia, but some people have a higher risk than others. Women can develop anemia during their monthly menstrual periods or after giving birth because both of these situations lead to a high amount of blood loss. People over the age of 65 are more likely to develop iron-deficiency anemia because they tend not to get enough iron in their diets. You are more likely to have iron deficiency anemia if you take blood thinners such as aspirin, clopidogrel, warfarin, or heparin. You can become anemic if you have kidney failure – especially if you are on dialysis – because this condition reduces your body’s ability to create red blood cells. Another leading cause of iron deficiency anemia is if you have trouble absorbing iron.
Who needs iron infusions?
There are a number of reasons you may not be able to take iron orally. You will need an iron IV if you have internal bleeding in your GI tract, if you have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and oral iron makes your IBD symptoms worse, or if you are on kidney dialysis. An iron IV is also necessary if you will be having surgery in the next two months in which you will lose a high amount of blood, if you have celiac disease, or if you have anemia and cancer and you are taking an erythropoietin stimulating agent (ESA).
Iron infusions vs. iron injections
Iron IVs are given over the course of several hours, whereas iron injections deliver a full dose of iron at once. Iron injections also involve a needle, but in this form, the needle is usually inserted into the buttocks, and the iron is injected into a muscle.
Iron IVs are usually less painful than iron injections. The injections can also cause your muscles to bleed, and you may notice orange discoloration at the injection site. In order to avoid these potential side effects, doctors usually prefer to use iron IVs rather than iron injections to treat iron-deficiency anemia.
However, iron infusions also come with many risks and side effects of their own.
Minor side effects and risks of iron IVs
The side effects associated with iron IV infusion treatments are usually minor. You may notice swelling or a burning sensation at the site where the IV was placed. You may experience bloating or swelling in your arms, face, feet, hands, or lower legs. You may also feel dizzy, faint, or lightheaded if you stand up suddenly after lying or sitting down. Shortness of breath and chest pain, and tightness have also been reported. Another potential side effect is gastrointestinal problems such as cramps, nausea, and vomiting. You may also experience headaches, joint pain, and muscle pain. Itching and rash are also possible. Food and drinks may taste different for a little while after your infusion. The treatment may also cause your blood pressure or heart rate to increase or decrease.
Serious side effects of iron IVs
Many of the side effects associated with getting iron IV infusions are minor, but these treatments can come with serious complications.
Iron toxicity is a rare but serious complication from iron infusions. The symptoms of iron toxicity can suddenly or gradually come on over time. The infusions are done slowly to lower your risk of iron toxicity and anaphylactic shock.
If the symptoms happen rapidly, iron toxicity can cause anaphylactic shock. Anaphylactic shock can make it difficult for you to breathe. You may also feel confused and dizzy, or you may suddenly feel weak. Anaphylactic shock can also cause you to lose consciousness.
If the symptoms of anaphylactic shock begin gradually, your body will accumulate too much iron in your tissues.
Effectiveness of iron infusions
The timeline for when you should start to feel better is different from person to person. It usually takes about a week to a month after your treatment begins for most people to start feeling better. Be sure to keep an eye out for the symptoms as you go through your treatments and let your doctor or nurse know immediately if you develop any of the side effects we have discussed in this article.
How to have an iron infusion safely
Although IV iron has many potential side effects and risks, it can be administered safely.
If you are interested in receiving iron IV treatments, it is essential to undergo these treatments under the supervision and instruction of a physician. You cannot take it upon yourself to decide that iron infusions are the right course of treatment for you and take them according to your understanding of what you need. The treatments are very safe as long as they are administered by a registered and trained nurse. You need to be monitored by someone who knows how to administer these infusions and knows what to look for that can indicate the onset of side effects.
Iron IV infusions may be necessary for you to undergo if you have certain other health conditions, but if you do these treatments while in the care of a doctor or nurse, you can be assured that you will not likely develop any side effects.
At-Home Iron Infusion With Drip Hydration
Drip Hydration offers iron IV infusions in the comfort of your home. This therapy involves an intravenous administration of our iron infusion blend. Our certified nurses come to your location to administer the therapy.
During this time, you can do anything you’d like, such as relax under a warm blanket or watch TV. Drip Hydration will also go to hotels, worksites, or other locations upon request.