If you’re struggling with low iron levels despite making diet adjustments or taking oral supplements, you may be considering getting an iron infusion. Today, we take a look at what an iron infusion is, its benefits, the potential side effects, and other ways you can increase your blood iron levels. First, though, let’s take a look at what iron is and why it’s important for your health.
What is iron?
Iron is a mineral that is essential for supporting many aspects of your health. Normal iron levels ensure that your body can produce healthy red blood cells. These cells help create hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen throughout your body to provide your organs with the tools they need to function normally.
When your blood iron is low, your body cannot get the oxygen it needs due to insufficient levels of healthy blood cells. This condition is called iron-deficiency anemia, a condition that can cause a wide range of symptoms.
What is the normal amount of iron in your body?
Most adults store between 1 – 3 g of iron in their bodies. Much like other vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, some of this iron is used throughout the day for normal body functions. Iron is also lost throughout the day due to natural skin or mucosal shedding.
These levels are typically maintained through dietary intake. Individuals who have an iron deficiency may be functioning on less than 50% of their normal stores.
How much iron do you need?
Your daily iron needs depend on factors such as your age, sex, activity levels, and more.
- Children need identical levels of iron
- Teen girls need more iron than teen boys following the start of menstruation
- Men’s iron need typically stabilize during adulthood
- Adult women’s needs vary depending on factors such as menstruation, pregnancy, and lactation
- Both male and female athletes require more iron than average adults due to the additional performance and recovery demands put on their bodies during training or competition.
- Seniors 51 and older need less iron than adults 30 – 50 years old
Your iron intake can be impacted by whether you have a condition that makes it difficult for your body to absorb iron normally, like celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and others. Individuals undergoing certain medical treatments may also require more iron to help maintain normal stores during recovery.
The symptoms of low iron levels
Iron deficiencies typically have a slow onset with initial mild symptoms worsening over time. This can make it difficult to notice if a deficiency is present.
Low iron levels can cause a wide range of symptoms, including:
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Shortness of breath
- Pale skin
- Fast heartbeat
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Inflamed or sore tongue
- Cold hands and/or feet
- Brittle nails
- Rarely, cravings such as ice or dirt
- Infants and children may have poor appetite
What happens if you do not treat iron deficiency?
Iron deficiency is a very common condition, with an estimated 1.6 billion people worldwide being iron deficient. Although anyone can develop iron-deficiency anemia, most of these individuals are girls and women of childbearing age.
The symptoms of mild iron deficiency can be difficult to notice, so many people live with this condition for years before seeking a diagnosis. Left untreated, anemia can lead to significant health problems.
- Severe fatigue: Fatigue and weakness that can make it difficult, if not impossible, to carry out everyday tasks.
- Heart problems: Because your organs and tissues aren’t getting enough oxygen when you have anemia, your heart compensates by pumping harder and faster to supply your body with the oxygen it needs.
- Complications during pregnancy: Insufficient iron levels during pregnancy can cause a low birth weight, premature births, and an increased risk of maternal mortality.
Anemia can be corrected through dietary changes, iron infusions or injections, and/or oral supplements.
What is an iron infusion?
An iron infusion is a minimally invasive medical treatment in which a patient receives a blend of saline, iron, and other vitamins intravenously.
Unlike vitamin IV treatments, which take less than an hour to infuse, iron treatments may take between 3 – 4 hours per session. This is due to the slow drip speed which helps prevent complications.
There are several advantages of getting an iron infusion over oral supplementation.
- Iron infusions bypass the digestive system, helping patients avoid the stomach upset and other digestive issues that often come with oral iron supplements.
- Since iron IVs are delivered directly into the bloodstream, the ingredients are immediately available for use by your body.
- Oral supplements must pass through your digestive system, where components must be broken down before they can be absorbed and become available for use.
- Individuals who have difficulty swallowing pills do not have to worry about struggling with taking their daily dose.
- People who have difficulty taking medications regularly do not have to worry about remembering when it is time for a new dose as treatments come directly to them.
- Infusions offer superior effectiveness than oral supplements for individuals who have trouble absorbing iron through the gut for any reason.
Why would a patient need an iron infusion?
There may be many reasons that a person may need an iron infusion to correct low blood iron levels.
These reasons may include:
- Certain medical conditions
- Low blood iron due to side effects from other treatments
- Inability to absorb adequate iron from diet or supplements
- Intolerance to oral iron supplementation
- A clinical need to rapidly replenish iron stores
- Oral supplements have not been effective at raising blood iron levels
- In advance of a surgical procedure to correct anemia, reduce the need for blood transfusions, and improve recovery time
- Patients who do not take oral iron therapy as prescribed
- Patient has an inflammatory bowel disease where oral supplements are either not tolerated or contraindicated
How do you know if you need an iron infusion?
The only way to know if you need an iron infusion is to get a diagnosis from a medical professional. Multiple types of blood tests are typically required in order for a diagnosis.
Low blood iron levels can cause symptoms that overlap with many medical conditions, so it’s important to speak with your doctor to determine the exact cause and seek the correct treatment.
What iron level requires an iron infusion?
There is no single “normal” iron level. Normal ranges will depend on factors such as a person’s age, sex, activity levels, whether or not a person is pregnant, and more.
In addition, there are other factors that a doctor will weigh before recommending an iron infusion, such as the type of anemia you have, whether or not you are pregnant, whether oral supplementation can be used to correct mild anemia, and more.
If you notice symptoms of low iron, it’s important to visit a doctor. They will be able to review your current symptoms, medical history, and lab test results to determine whether an iron infusion is right for you.
Who cannot receive iron infusions?
Although many people can safely receive iron infusions, this is not the case for everyone.
People who cannot receive iron infusions include:
- Anemia that is not caused by iron deficiency
- History of adverse reactions to iron infusions
- Allergic reactions to any of the ingredients in an iron infusion
- Iron overload
- History of cirrhosis of the liver
- Current acute or chronic infection
- Pregnancy in the first trimester
- Acute renal failure
- Patients with a history of severe asthma, eczema or other atopic allergy
- Patients taking certain medications
- Patients under the age of 14 years
- Patient has a fever or sepsis
What tests do you need to be diagnosed with low blood iron?
A doctor will typically order one or more types of blood iron tests before making a diagnosis. Tests take the form of a blood draw which only takes a few minutes to administer. Test results will show whether you have too little or too much iron in your blood.
Results can help your doctor determine whether you have a medical condition that needs treatment, whether a medication you are taking is impacting your blood iron levels, or whether low blood iron levels are linked to menstruation.
Tests may include:
- Iron Panel (Iron, Ferritin, Transferrin): This test detects the current levels of iron, ferritin, and transferrin in your body.
- Hemoglobin (HB): This test measures the amount of this blood protein which aids in transporting oxygen throughout your body.
- Complete blood count (CBC): This test that measures the current levels of your red blood cells, white blood cells, hemoglobin, platelets, and hematocrit.
- Complete metabolic panel: This panel measures the current levels of your kidney and liver function.
Lab test results are generally required within one month prior to the start of an iron IV infusion. Tests may be ordered following treatment as well. Lab tests are performed after treatment to determine whether blood iron levels have stabilized or if further infusions are necessary.
Iron infusions during pregnancy
Pregnant women may get iron infusions when ordered by a doctor. Infusions may be recommended in the second or third trimester. Women in their first trimester are not currently eligible for iron infusions.
What are the symptoms of anemia?
Anemia is a condition in which your blood lacks a normal amount of healthy red blood cells (RBCs). There are several types of anemia. Every type impacts the normal levels of RBCs in your body.
- <12 g/dL hemoglobin in women
- <13 g/dL hemoglobin in men
All types of anemia have some symptoms in common, including:
- Feeling cold
- Shortness of breath
Individual types of anemia cause condition-specific symptoms.
What are the types of anemia?
There are many types of anemia. These types include:
- Iron-deficiency anemia: A very common type of anemia where low blood iron causes your body to make an insufficient number of red blood cells. These blood cells are typically small.
- Vitamin-deficiency anemia: This type of anemia is caused by low levels of vitamin B12 and/or folate, typically as a result of poor diet or difficulty with absorption.
- Aplastic anemia: Aplastic anemia occurs when your bone marrow is unable to produce adequate numbers of red blood cells. This may result from autoimmune diseases, genetic causes, certain medications, infections, and more.
- Hemolytic anemia: This type of anemia occurs when disease causes your body to produce deformed blood cells that do not have a normal lifespan. This may occur due to certain drugs or exposure to toxic elements.
- Anemia of chronic disease: Anemia of chronic disease is caused by certain conditions that impact the normal production of red blood cells. These may include cancer, kidney disease, liver disease, autoimmune disease, and others.
- Pernicious anemia: This type of anemia occurs when a person has an autoimmune condition that prevents their body from absorbing vitamin B12, an essential vitamin in healthy red blood cell development.
- Sickle cell anemia: Sickle cell anemia is an inherited condition in which the body produces blood cells that are rigid and crescent shaped. These cells may be destroyed faster than they can be replaced as they can break apart more easily than normal blood cells.
How does iron deficiency cause anemia?
Iron is a crucial component in enabling your body to make hemoglobin and healthy red blood cells. When your body doesn’t have enough iron, it cannot make enough hemoglobin or red blood cells. In addition, the cells it creates are small (microcytic) and contain less hemoglobin than normal.
What are the stages of iron-deficiency anemia?
Iron-deficiency anemia does not occur overnight. As discussed earlier, your body contains iron stores that can be used over time. Iron-deficiency anemia can occur when these stores are used faster than they can be replenished or if you are not receiving enough iron due to diet, medication, absorption issues, and other reasons.
There are three stages of iron-deficiency anemia:
- Stage one: Your iron stores are low but have not started to impact the normal production of red blood cells.
- Stage two: Your iron stores are low enough that your body begins producing red blood cells that do not contain enough hemoglobin.
- Stage three: Your body does not contain enough iron to make hemoglobin, and your levels of hemoglobin begin to drop. Iron-deficiency anemia develops at this point. You will likely start to notice fatigue, weakness, cold hands and feet, and other symptoms.
How is anemia diagnosed?
You will receive a diagnosis following an evaluation of your medical history, blood tests, and any other screening that your doctor recommends.
How is anemia treated?
Treatment varies depending on individual needs, the type of anemia present, and the severity of the condition. Your doctor will work with you to develop the best treatment plan for your situation.
Here, we briefly discuss how different types of anemia are treated.
- Mild forms can generally be corrected through diet and supplementation.
- More severe forms may be treated with iron infusions or blood transfusions.
- Individuals who are anemic before surgery and who need their blood iron levels increased quickly may receive an iron infusion.
- If the cause of low blood iron stems from internal bleeding, then surgery may be needed alongside other corrective treatments.
Vitamin deficiency anemia
- This type of anemia can generally be corrected through diet and supplementation.
- Patients who have difficulty absorbing vitamins through the gut may receive vitamin shots that bypass the digestive system. These shots may be given at intervals over weeks or months to maintain normal vitamin levels.
- This type of anemia may be treated with blood transfusions to help support normal RBC levels.
- Patients with bone marrow disease may receive a bone marrow transplant to help their body create healthy blood cells.
- This type of anemia may be treated by avoiding drugs and other potential factors that may have caused symptoms.
- Immunosuppressant drugs may be required if the patient’s immune system is attacking RBCs.
- Severe cases may require ongoing treatment.
Anemia of chronic disease
- Because this type of anemia may be caused by many diseases, treatments typically focus on treating the underlying cause.
- Restoring normal B12 levels can correct healthy red blood cell levels.
- Since this type of anemia often blocks the absorption of B12 through the intestinal lining, patients may receive ongoing B12 shots.
- High doses of vitamin B12 may be prescribed in some cases.
Sickle cell anemia
- This type of anemia cannot be cured, but it can be managed with medications, IV fluids, and oxygen treatments.
Who is most likely to develop iron-deficiency anemia?
Although anyone can develop iron-deficiency anemia, some individuals are at higher risk than others. People in these categories should take note of any anemia symptoms they experience and speak to their doctor about getting tested for anemia.
- Women, especially those with heavy menstrual cycles
- Pregnant individuals
- Individuals with cancer
- Vegetarians and vegans who do not get enough iron from their diet
- Individuals with certain diseases and illnesses
- Individuals who have difficulty absorbing iron through the gut
- Infants and children
- People who donate blood regularly
What is intravenous iron supplementation?
Intravenous iron supplementation (also known as iron IV treatments or iron infusions) increase the level of iron in the blood through a combination of saline solution and iron. Treatments help correct low levels quickly because they are infused directly into the bloodstream, bypassing the digestive system.
Who receives intravenous iron supplementation?
Anyone who has low blood iron levels and does not have an allergy or other contraindication can receive an iron infusion as recommended by their doctor.
How do iron infusions work for iron deficiency anemia?
Iron infusions raise the level of blood iron faster than oral supplements or diet changes. They are also highly effective for people who have difficulties absorbing iron through the gut.
Treatments may take place over several days, weeks, or months depending on individual needs. Following the initial course of treatment, patients may receive infusions throughout the year as needed to maintain normal blood iron levels.
How quickly does an iron infusion work?
Some patients feel better shortly after their first infusion. Those who need multiple infusions to correct low iron levels may start feeling better after a week or more.
The exact number of infusions needed will depend on your situation. Your doctor will assess your needs and develop a treatment plan to effectively correct your iron-deficiency anemia.
How to prepare for an iron infusion
Preparing for an iron infusion is straightforward.
- Make sure you set aside enough time for treatment.
- Iron infusions may take 3 or 4 hours, so make sure to have a book, a game, music or podcasts, or a computer on hand. Some people opt to sit near a TV to stay occupied during treatment.
- Eat your normal meals and stay hydrated.
- Take your medication as normal unless otherwise instructed by your doctor.
- Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing with short sleeves as the infusion will be administered in your arm.
- Consider having a blanket on hand if you get cold easily.
- There is no need to fast prior to this procedure unless your doctor instructs otherwise.
Following treatment, you can resume your daily activities as normal if you feel well enough to do so.
What happens during an iron infusion?
The iron infusion process starts by administering a needle that allows a catheter (a small tube) into the blood vein. You may feel a small pinch when the needle breaks the skin. The catheter is typically inserted in your arm at the inside of your elbow. Once it has been inserted, the needle is removed, leaving only the catheter in your vein.
The catheter is attached to a tube that connects to the iron infusion bag, which contains a blend of sterile saline solution and iron. This bag is hung above your head to allow gravity to slowly drip the infusion into your bloodstream.
Once the catheter is in place, your nurse will administer a test dose to ensure you do not have an allergic reaction to any ingredients in the infusion. Your nurse will stop the infusion and administer treatment to stop the allergic reaction if necessary. If you do not have any adverse reactions to the test dose, your infusion will begin.
The infusion itself is painless for most people, although some people may experience side effects such as headaches or nausea during treatment. Your nurse will monitor you for any adverse reactions.
The infusion process typically takes 2 – 3 hours. Following your treatment, you can resume activities as normal unless otherwise instructed.
What is the test dose for?
Allergic reactions are rare but can be deadly. As a result, a test dose will be conducted before an infusion to determine if a patient has an allergic reaction to any ingredients in the treatment. Your nurse will have a kit on hand to stop an allergic reaction if you do experience one.
Are iron infusions painful?
Iron infusions are a largely painless, minimally invasive medical procedure. Patients may experience a brief pinching sensation as the needle is inserted into the vein. Some patients report temporary side effects such as headaches and nausea during or after treatment. These side effects typically resolve on their own within a day or two.
How long does an iron infusion take?
An iron infusion typically takes 3 – 4 hours. The slow infusion rate is purposely done to avoid any complications and minimize the chance of developing side effects.
Iron infusion benefits
There are several key benefits of an iron infusion:
- For superior absorption as compared to oral supplements
- To restore normal iron levels quickly
- To correct low iron levels without the potential gastrointestinal upset that can come with oral supplements
- As regular infusions for ongoing maintenance to help you keep iron levels within normal values
- To rehydrate your body
- To help patients avoid missing daily oral tablets due to forgetfulness or difficulty taking oral pills
Side effects and complications of iron infusions
Iron infusions are a safe procedure when administered by a licensed healthcare professional. However, treatments are a minimally invasive procedure that comes with some potential risks.
Risks of IV treatment in general include:
- Air embolism
- Blood clots
- Vein damage
- Small chance of infection at the injection site
There are also several potential side effects of iron infusions. They are typically mild and resolve on their own shortly after treatment.
- Muscle and joint pain
- Shortness of breath
- Temporary changes in your sense of taste and/or smell
- Increased or decreased blood pressure
- Increased or decreased heart rate
- Skin irritations such as redness, swelling, itchiness, or tenderness at the injection site
- Digestive issues such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, stomach pain, or diarrhea
- Paravenous leakage, which is a leakage of iron at the injection site that can cause long-lasting skin discoloration
In addition to these, it is possible to have an allergic reaction to ingredients in the infusion. However, your test dose will help prevent this issue.
Hemochromatosis, also known as iron overload, is a common condition where there is too much iron present in the body. There are two types: primary and secondary. Primary iron overload is a genetic condition that cannot be cured.
Secondary iron overload is caused by medical conditions or treatments such as:
- Ingesting too much iron through your diet
- Blood transfusions
- Iron pills
- Iron injections
- Iron infusions
- Liver disease
- Long-term kidney dialysis
Symptoms of iron overload include:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Irregular heartbeat or fluttering heart
- Joint pain
- Stomach pain
- Weight loss
- “Iron fist”, enlargement and pain in the knuckles of the pointer and middle fingers
Having too much iron in your body can cause iron toxicity. This can damage many organs and cause:
- Heart arrhythmia
- Heart failure
- Skin color changes (eg. more bronze or gray than usual)
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Liver failure
- Liver cancer
- Spleen, gallbladder, thyroid, spleen, pituitary gland, or adrenal gland problems
- Reproductive issues such as early menopause or erectile dysfunction
It’s important to seek treatment for iron overload, as this condition can be fatal.
How effective is intravenous iron for iron deficiency anemia?
Intravenous iron is highly effective at restoring normal iron levels and correcting iron-deficiency anemia. Patients may feel better within days or weeks of treatment depending on their circumstances.
After the initial treatment course, patients can receive further iron infusions to maintain normal blood iron levels.
What are the types of FDA-approved iron infusions?
Ferric carboxymaltose (FCM)
Also known as Injectafer or Ferinject, this infusion does not contain dextran, an ingredient known to cause allergic reactions in some patients. FCM can be administered rapidly (15 minutes) in large doses (15 mg/kg). It is recommended for most people under 50 kgs to receive 1 or 2 doses of 750 mg given at least seven days apart. No test dose is required for FCM infusions.
Also known as Monoferric or Monofer, this iron infusion also does not require a test dose prior to treatment. A treatment of ferric derisomaltose is typically a single dose of 20 mg/kg for people under 50kg administered intravenously over 20 minutes. Treatments can be repeated if necessary.
Ferric gluconate (FG)
Although Ferrlecit does not require a test dose, it is recommended for people who have a history of drug allergies. This treatment consists of a 62.5 mg/5 mL injection in a single-dose vial. The recommended dose is 125 to 250 mg given over the course of two or more treatments.
Also known as Feraheme or Rienso, this iron infusion is often used for patients with chronic kidney disease and who cannot take oral iron supplements. The recommended dosage is a single dose of 1020 mg or two doses of 510 mg given 3 to 8 days apart.
Also known as InFeD, Dexiron, or CosmoFer, test dosing is recommended prior to undertaking treatment due to the risk of allergic reaction. Doses are administered intravenously at 2ml or less per day, and doses can be calculated with the formula below.
- Dose (mL) = 0.0442 (Desired hemoglobin – Observed hemoglobin) x lean body weight in kg + (0.26 x lean body weight)
Also known as Venofer, this infusion can be administered no more than three times a week with a maximum dose of 200mg, not exceeding 1000mg within two weeks. Test dosing is recommended for patients who have a history of drug allergies.
How much does an iron IV cost?
Iron infusions may cost anywhere between $400 to $4000. The final cost will depend on a variety of factors, including the dosage, type of iron used, and duration of treatment. The longer the course of treatment, the higher the cost. Cost may also be impacted by insurance.
Should you treat anemia on your own?
It is not recommended for individuals to treat anemia with DIY methods. Low blood iron levels have many potential causes, so it’s important to be professionally screened and diagnosed to determine the exact cause and seek treatment accordingly.
It is also important to have professionally monitored treatment to prevent iron overload, intervene in the event of allergic reactions, and ensure your blood iron levels are where they need to be.
What are alternatives to iron IV?
Whether iron infusions are not your preference for any reason, or you want to know other ways you can restore normal iron levels, there are several other treatments to consider.
Diet changes are often the first line of treatment for mild iron-deficiency anemia as many types of food naturally contain iron. The inclusion of these foods into your everyday diet can often restore normal levels without the need for iron supplements or infusions.
Iron-rich foods include:
- Sweet potatoes
- Oat cereal
- Beans, lentils, and other legumes
Changing what you eat is as important as what types of foods and drinks you avoid. These items can impact how well your body can absorb iron.
Foods and drinks to avoid include:
- Calcium supplements
- Soy protein
- Egg whites
Iron supplements take the form of oral tablets or capsules that may be taken once or multiple times per day, depending on the dosage and your doctor’s instructions. Oral supplements may be a good alternative for individuals who have an aversion to needles.
A blood transfusion may sound intimidating, but it is a routine procedure that delivers new, donated blood into your bloodstream. Much like an iron infusion, this treatment restores low blood iron levels over the course of several hours. This treatment has the added advantage of replenishing red blood cells at the same time. Your doctor can help determine if this treatment is right for you.
An iron injection is an intramuscular shot that takes only a few seconds to administer. Like iron IVs, treatments bypass the digestive system, and components are quickly available for the body to use. This option is a good option for individuals with iron absorption issues or who experience digestive troubles with oral supplements.
In-home vs in-clinic iron infusions
Iron infusions are traditionally administered at a clinic or hospital and are administered by a medical professional. However, in recent years, some concierge practices have started bringing iron infusions directly to patients’ homes.
Whether you get your treatment at a clinic or at home, you can expect the same process. The only difference is that for an in-home treatment, your nurse will arrive at your location for your appointment with all necessary equipment for your infusion.
In-home infusions have some advantages over traditional clinic settings, including:
- Treatments are convenient and help you save on gas prices and transit time to and from a clinic, especially for individuals who need ongoing treatment.
- In-home infusions make it easy for individuals with limited mobility to obtain the treatment they need.
- There is no risk of exposure to illnesses and viruses at a clinic.
- A single treatment session takes 2 – 4 hours, and multiple appointments are often necessary to correct iron-deficiency anemia. In-home infusions fit into your schedule, so you don’t have to take time off of work.
- If you work from home, you can work during your infusion. Otherwise, you can kick back, watch a show, read a book, or catch up with friends online.
- Concierge iron infusions offer personalized services and establish a relationship with patients, which helps boost confidence and morale.
- Telemedicine check-ins save you time and enable you to ask questions and get the answers you need quickly, without the need to make another appointment.
Get A Free Consultation From A Trained Professional
The only way to know if you have iron-deficiency anemia is by speaking with a trained medical professional and getting lab tests to determine the cause of your symptoms.
Drip Hydration offers free telemedicine consultations to answer any questions you may have about our in-home iron infusion treatments and help you determine if our services are right for you.
Fast, friendly, and professional, Drip Hydration is proud to offer iron infusions, IV treatments, and general wellness services in homes around the world. Give us a call or click the button below to book an appointment!