Iron Infusions: Everything You Need to Know

Published April 5th, 2022 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by
Jacqueline Hensler
Medically Reviewed:
Dr. Angel Rivera

Iron-deficiency anemia is a common condition that can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, and other health problems.

If you are suffering from iron-deficiency anemia, your doctor may recommend an iron infusion as treatment. An iron infusion is a procedure in which iron is administered directly into your bloodstream.

In this article, we will provide you with all the information you need to know about iron infusions including what they are, how they work, and how to prepare for them.

What is iron-deficiency anemia?

Iron-deficiency anemia, or IDA, is a condition that develops when your body is iron deficient.

When you have anemia, you have a lower number of red blood cells or hemoglobin, which is the protein in red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout your body.

Iron is a crucial mineral that helps your red blood cells and hemoglobin carry the oxygen and without enough iron, you may feel tired and weak.

Iron-deficiency anemia is normally caused by blood loss, diet, or your body's inability to process iron from food.

Blood loss does not have to occur only from injury or surgery as there can be ongoing blood loss which can include the following:

  • Heavyperiods
  • Childbirth
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Colon cancer
  • Urinary tract bleeding
  • Chronic kidney disease

The symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia can vary from person to person and may take time to develop which allows your body to adjust to it. If you are showing symptoms, they may include the following:

  • Feeling tired and weak
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Pale skin
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Cold sensitivity
  • Increased thirst
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Chest pain also called angina
  • Infections

These are some of the most common symptoms; however, there are others. If you suffer from any of the conditions above and your symptoms match those of iron-deficiency anemia please talk to your doctor or healthcare provider.

What is an iron infusion?

An iron infusion is a treatment for iron deficiency where iron is administered to you intravenously, or through your veins.

Iron infusions are used to treat iron-deficiency anemia and can help replenish your iron levels back to normal.

Usually, if you have an iron deficiency your doctor will prescribe oral iron supplements such as iron tablets or pills.

There may be various reasons you can not take the medication by mouth and your doctor can use an iron infusion instead.

iron infusion

What is the difference between an iron infusion and an iron injection?

An iron infusion is a slow drip of iron over a period of time, usually a few hours or more.

An iron injection is a shot of iron that is given to a muscle, typically your buttocks, and is over in a matter of seconds.

The difference between the two is that with an iron injection, there is a possibility of intramuscular bleeding, orange discoloration, and it tends to be more painful.

What are the benefits of an iron infusion?

There are many benefits to receiving an iron infusion, the most important is that it delivers iron into your body very quickly if you have severe anemia and helps alleviate its symptoms. Other benefits include:

  • Helping you feel more energetic and less tired
  • Easier breathing

It may take a few infusions to feel some benefits and they may not be felt for several weeks.

How long iron infusions last depends on how regularly you lose blood.

For example, if you have a heavy period regularly, you may need iron infusions every few months whereas someone else without regular blood loss may feel the benefits for a couple of years.

How do I prepare for an iron infusion?

Typically, no special preparation is needed for an iron infusion. Take any other medications as prescribed and eat a normal diet before going to the infusion.

However, if you are taking any iron supplements or have a history of drug allergies to medications or iodine, please let your doctor know.

How will my doctor perform an iron infusion?

Your iron infusion will be administered by a healthcare professional, such as a nurse or doctor, at a hospital or infusion center and is similar to any other intravenous (IV) therapy.

You will start an IV line, also called a catheter, in your arm or hand and slowly drip the iron mixed with the saline solution into your bloodstream.

You may feel a slight burning sensation when the iron enters your veins or you may feel nothing at all. You may also be given a test dose first to ensure that you will not have any adverse drug reactions or drug allergies.

The infusion can take anywhere from 3 to 4 hours and sometimes can last even longer.

The reason it takes so long is to prevent any complications. As with most other IVs, you will remain seated throughout the procedure. Please note that you may need several infusions to restore the iron levels in your body.

Which medicines are typically used for an iron infusion?

The iron supplements used in iron infusions are not the same, in fact, there are a handful used to treat iron-deficiency anemia. The most common medications used include:

  • Feraheme
  • Ferrlecit
  • Injectafer
  • Monoferric
  • Triferic AVNU
  • Venofer

The differences between the medicines range from dosing, the weight of the person receiving the infusion, and how many infusions are necessary.

Please talk to your doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions about which one is right for you.

Are there any side effects to an iron infusion?

An iron infusion treatment usually has minimal side effects and you will probably be able to drive yourself home. If you have side effects, they are usually mild.

The most common side effects of iron infusions are:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pain
  • Itchiness
  • Rash
  • Shortness of breath or increased respiratory rate
  • Temporary change in taste
  • Increased or decreased heart rate
  • Increased or decreased blood pressure
  • Burning sensation at the injection site
  • Swelling at the injection site
  • Dizziness
  • Abdominal pain

More serious adverse side effects can also occur including:

  • Anaphylaxis also called a severe allergic reaction
  • Shock
  • Severe low blood pressure which is also called hypotension
  • Collapse
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Difficulty breathing which can be more serious if you have other breathing conditions like asthma

These are the most common side effects and a severe reaction can sometimes be avoided by your doctor administering a test dose to ensure how your body responds to the treatment.

There are other potential side effects that your doctor will discuss with you. If you experience any severe or bothersome side effects, please contact your doctor or healthcare professional.

Summary

Iron-deficiency anemia is a blood disorder caused by a lack of iron. You need iron because it helps the hemoglobin proteins in your red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body.

If you have iron-deficiency anemia, there are several treatment options and if oral iron supplementation doesn't work your doctor may prescribe an alternative, including an iron infusion.

An iron infusion is an intravenous iron therapy that is administered via an iron-rich saline supplement that is dripped directly into your veins by an IV and usually takes 3 to 4 hours.

The benefits of an iron infusion are that it is one of the quickest ways to treat cases of severe anemia and has less of a risk of complications than an iron injection.

There are possible side effects and you need to inform your doctor if you experience an adverse reaction. If you have any more questions regarding iron-deficiency anemia or iron infusions, please talk to your doctor or healthcare provider.

References and Sources:

Mayo Clinic

NIH

Cleveland Clinic

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