By Heather Michon |
Iron is an essential mineral, and it’s the critical component in hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body.
What is anemia?
If we don’t have adequate amounts of iron in our blood, we can’t produce enough red blood cells for the body to function properly, creating a condition called iron deficiency anemia. Symptoms of anemia can include:
- Pale skin
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Brittle nails
In some cases, it can also lead to pica, a craving for strange foods, ice, or even dirt. This may be the body’s way of trying to get missing nutrients.
Iron deficiency anemia is often caused by some other condition. Pregnancy, kidney disorders, and gastrointestinal disorders are common causes of anemia. For others, the body simply can’t absorb enough iron from food to meet its needs.
Simple blood tests can assess the level of anemia a person is suffering. In borderline cases, it may be enough to increase dietary sources of iron or take supplements.
In more severe cases, a doctor may prescribe iron infusions. Iron is diluted in saline solution and delivered by an intravenous line. While it has to be performed in a hospital or an outpatient clinic, it’s the easiest way to quickly increase the level of iron in the blood.
Getting iron infusions
The good news is, all the patient has to do is show up at the appointed time. It’s generally not necessary to fast or do any sort of prep ahead of the procedure. Infusions can take as little as 30 minutes or as long as four hours, so dress for comfort and consider bringing along some reading or other diversions.
Once the infusion begins, you’ll be monitored carefully in the rare event you suffer anaphylactic shock. This severe allergic reaction can cause rash, severe itching, and difficulty breathing.
More common side effects of iron infusions include:
- Loose bowels
- Metallic taste in the mouth
These symptoms generally resolve on their own after a day or two.
What to expect after iron infusions
Depending on the results of your post-treatment bloodwork, your healthcare provider may want you have follow-up iron infusions, sometimes extending over a period of weeks.
Once past the initial side effects, patients can generally expect to start feeling more energetic as their blood is fully re-oxygenated. Depending on the situation, the effects of an iron infusion can last for months, or even years.