The iron infusion actually refers to the intravenous iron supplementation, which is recommended for people who are suffering from anemia. This method is often used in patients who cannot take oral iron supplements, the iron being delivered directly into the bloodstream (parenteral therapy).
The human body contains a number of minerals, with iron being one of the most important ones. Iron contributes to the formation of hemoglobin, the red blood cells being responsible for supplying the body and its organs with adequate quantities of oxygen.
When a person does not have sufficient quantities of iron in the body, this means that hemoglobin will also not be available in the right amount, which leads to the appearance of iron-deficiency anemia. This is indeed one of the most common forms of anemia that are diagnosed, having a wide range of causes: a diet that is poor in iron, medication (the iron deficiency appears as a side-effect of the medication, due to the fact that the body is prevented from absorbing the mineral in adequate quantities) and increased need for iron (such as it happens in pregnant women). One must not forget that blood loss can also be a cause of iron-deficiency anemia, as it happens in those who suffer from stomach ulcers or different types of cancer. In women, menstruation can lead to such problems as well.
Iron-deficiency anemia can cause a lot of symptoms, making the person feel tired all the time. It can lead to a pale skin, cause difficult breathing and a faster heartbeat. It can also cause headaches, make one more sensitive to cold and it can affect the immune system, increasing the risk for infection. Women, older people and those who take blood thinners are at risk for such health problems. The same goes for those who are suffering from kidney failure, being on dialysis or those who have an impaired mechanism of iron absorption.
The diagnosis of anemia is often made with the help of blood testing, highlighting the level of hemoglobin and iron. Anemia can be treated through a rich-iron diet, by taking oral iron supplements or through intravenous supplementation (iron infusion).
Who is suitable for the iron infusion?
As it was already mentioned, the iron infusion is considered as an alternative in patients who cannot take oral iron supplements. At the top of that list, you can find those who are suffering from stomach ulcers, with active bleeding at the level of the gastrointestinal tract. In such situations, the purpose of the treatment is to compensate for the blood loss as quickly as it is possible. The iron that is administered directly into the vein will be absorbed immediately, as opposed to the one administered through oral means.
In the situation that the patient suffers from inflammatory bowel disease, oral iron supplements are not recommended. This is because they can aggravate the symptoms that they already experience, such as the abdominal pain, accelerated intestinal transit and subsequent weight loss. The patients who suffer from kidney failure and are on dialysis can also benefit from iron infusion. The same goes for those who suffer from iron-deficiency anemia and they need to have a surgical intervention in the near future (the iron infusion is the quickest method to ensure the necessary amount of hemoglobin in the blood). Suffering from celiac disease or gluten intolerance makes you a candidate for iron infusion as well. Last, but not least, patients who suffer from different types of cancer qualify for this kind of treatment.
Iron Infusion Procedure
The iron is administered intravenously, which means directly into the bloodstream, through a vein. The procedure can be performed in a medical practice, clinic or hospital and it can last for a couple of hours, depending on the actual quantity that was prescribed in the first place. In general, several iron transfusions are necessary, in order for hemoglobin to reach its normal level.
In preparing for the iron infusion, the doctor will review the patient’s health history, discussing about potential allergies or sensitivities. The patient will have to reveal to the doctor whether she is pregnant or trying to get pregnant. The doctor might also ask about previous allergic reactions, which have appeared specifically to the iron infusion. The patient will have to provide information on pre-existing conditions, such as hemochromatosis or infectious conditions. A complete list of current medication will have to be provided as well.
It is worth mentioning that the iron infusion can cause an adverse reaction when it comes into contact with certain substances, such as: phytic acid, zinc, mycophenolic acid and minocycline. It is not necessary to discontinue the medication but an adjustment of the dosage might be required (in accordance to the specifications of the doctor).
It is possible that, before the actual administration of the iron infusion, the doctor might decide to inject a small dose. In this way, he/she will know for certain whether you can tolerate the iron or not. If no adverse reaction appears to the administered dosage, the doctor will increase the amount with each day, until complete tolerance is obtained. The careful administration of the iron infusion guarantees that there will be no side-effects or that these are going to be kept down to a minimum. In some cases, antihistamines are administered at the same time with the iron infusion, so as to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction.
There are three types of preparations recommended for the iron infusion, meaning: iron dextran, iron sucrose and ferric gluconate. It is important to remember that both iron sucrose and ferric gluconate require for the dosage to be more frequent and spread over the course of several weeks. As for iron dextran, this presents an increased risk for allergic reactions. In the situation that the patient presents such a reaction, the doctor might decide to switch to another preparation.
Iron Infusion Side Effects
In the majority of the cases, the iron infusion only causes minimal side-effects. The patient might experience slight bloating at the level of the extremities, nausea and abdominal cramps. It is also possible to feel dizzy or lightheaded, especially when changing positions. Breathing problems, skin rashes and pain at the level of the chest are among the potential side-effects. In rare situations, the blood pressure might decrease or the patient experience an anaphylactic reaction. This is a severe allergic reaction to the recently-administered iron, with the patient having difficulties breathing and a severe rash over the entire body, with intense itchiness.
In some patients, it is possible that a brown discoloration or staining appears around the injection site. This appears as the iron leaks into the surrounding tissues. Unfortunately, this change might be permanent.
How to prepare for the iron infusion
Start your day with your regular breakfast, as there is no need to refrain from food for the iron infusion. You can also take your medication, provided you have talked to the doctor about the adjusted dosages. Unless complications arise, you can leave the center on your own and even drive your car. Prepare yourself to spend a couple of hours receiving the iron infusion, as the preparation is administered through a regular IV drip. In the situation that you experience any burning, swelling or pain at the level of the injection site, be sure to notify the staff about it (as you might be experiencing an allergic reaction to the iron infusion).
Is iron infusion an effective form of treatment for anemia?
First of all, the level of efficiency of the iron infusion depends on the severity of the anemia and on each individual patient. In general, it takes a certain period of time and several sessions, in order for the symptoms experienced by the patient to improve.