Red blood cells contain an essential protein called hemoglobin. This protein helps supply oxygen to all parts of your body. A low count of red blood cells is known as anemia. When this count drops, your body may not have the needful supply of oxygen because of a drop in the level of hemoglobin. More than 5% of the population in the US are known to have this condition. It is more likely to affect children, pregnant women as well as people with other clinical conditions such as renal disorders. Infusion of iron is a treatment option administered to people living with anemia. But, this procedure may trigger a few side effects; it is helpful to know its most common side effects.

Your daily diet is a reliable source through which body gains access to needful levels of iron. The absorption system of your small intestine plays a critical role in tapping iron from the foods you eat. Once absorbed, your bone marrow uses this mineral to produce fresh red cells. Presence of more red cells means your body is endowed with a healthy level of oxygen. It is needless to note – inadequate production of red cells means your body is not functioning to its fullest potential. It eventually leads to a medical condition called anemia.

Those who are more likely to develop anemia include elderly people – especially, those aged above 60 years, those taking foods with poor content of iron, women who witness heavy loss of blood during their periods, pregnant women as well as people with renal problems. In some instances, people who took blood thinning medicines such as warfarin, heparin or aspirin have also witnessed a marked drop in their hemoglobin levels.

Symptoms and signs of anemia

At an early stage or at a moderate level, anemia may not trigger any visible side effects. But, if the reduction in red cell count goes below a threshold level, the signs may start showing up. The typical signs of anemia are headaches, drowsiness or feeling dizzy, erratic heartbeats, increase in pulse rate as well as respiratory problems like gasping or wheezing. Anemia can be of many types such as, those triggered by deficiency of iron, damage of red cells or a type of anemia caused by the inability of your body to make needful red cells.

Anemia caused by deficiency of iron is usually triggered by many reasons – such as, when foods you take are not rich in iron, damage or surgical excision of your small intestine, breastfeeding, frequent donation of blood, intake of drinks rich in caffeine, etc. In some cases, an internal bleeding can also led to the onset of anemia. Upon noticing the common signs associated with this blood condition, your doctor may recommend a few diagnostic tests. A widely performed test is the complete blood count – commonly referred as CBC; this test helps measure the count of your red cells, white cells as well as platelets. If the count of red cells is way below normal, your doctor will administer needful supplements. However, if the levels are too low, infusion of iron is a widely used treatment.

Side effects of infusion of iron

When oral supplements of iron yield limited results, your doctor may recommend an intravenous infusion of iron. This procedure often consumes more than 2 hours. In case of an acute deficiency of iron, it may take upto 4 hours and at times, even longer. This procedure is done in a healthcare setting – either in a clinic or a hospital. It can also be done in dialysis centers. Soon after infusion is done, you are likely to experience a few side effects; most common among them are abdominal problems like vomiting or nausea, pain in the joints, muscular spasms or twitching of muscles, an altered sense of taste, etc. In some people, discomforts like inflammation at the site of catheter, itchiness, changes in blood pressure levels and gasping for breath or other respiratory problems are observed.

Serious side effects of infusion of iron

In a few rare instances, iron infusion is likely to trigger some serious side effects. These include a marked drop in the blood pressure level wherein the diastolic pressure drops below 60 mmHg, passing out or fainting. A few people have reported severe allergic reactions or anaphylaxis; this can include signs like breathing difficulties, acute spell of dizziness, inflammation of body parts, etc. Difficulties to pass stools (constipation), itchiness or drowsiness have also been reported in some cases. In all such instances, you are advised to take needful medical help on an urgent basis. Those living in the US are advised to call 911 immediately or get in touch with a poison control center. If you are living in Canada, you need to quickly reach out to Health Canada or call a local poison control unit as soon as possible.

It is important to note that the use of high-density iron or iron with a heavy molecular mass is likely to trigger acute allergic reactions. However, administration of such iron is largely discontinued in iron infusion procedures. When iron is used with sucrose, a small minority of users have reported a few allergies. Studies reveal that a slow rate of infusion as well as homecare rendered soon after the procedure has considerably reduced the odds of most adverse side effects.

Infusion of iron – Safe practices

You need to remember that iron is infused intravenously when your gut fails to absorb iron or if there is an excessive loss of blood. It is also done when there is an immediate need to replenish iron levels, mainly due to a few clinical conditions. Iron is infused through your vein. You need to remember that several such sessions are needed to set right a drop in levels of hemoglobin. Prior to the procedure, it is important to share needful details about known allergies as well as hypersensitivity. If you have experienced any discomforts or developed adverse side effects during earlier sittings of infusion, it is essential to share more details about them. It is equally important to tell your doctor if you are planning to become pregnant, or if you are already pregnant.

In order to assess how well your body responds to a dose of iron, a small dose is infused initially. Such smaller doses can help understand how well your system absorbs and responds to this procedure. Upon assuring there are no discomforts or allergies, the dosage levels are gradually increased. If you develop some minor allergies, your doctor may advise intake of an antihistamine. Such co-administration helps minimise and / or avoid allergic reactions.

Infusion of iron – People who may need

This method of supplementing iron is found apt for those living with injuries or ulcers in their intestines; especially, those with an internal bleeding condition. Also, if people with gastric conditions take oral supplements of iron, it can lead to side effects like loss of body weight, pain in the lower abdomen, loss of efficacy of supplements due to poor absorption rates, etc. Owing to ulcers in the gastric tract, iron administered intravenously gets absorbed with ease than supplements taken orally.

People who are living with cancers usually respond well to iron infused through the intravenous route. Those who have renal dysfunction find this method of infusion working well for them. Also, those who are anemic and are likely to undergo a surgery in the near term may require such an infusion; this procedure can help them acquire needful hemoglobin prior to the surgical intervention. Clinical studies reveal that people with celiac disease are also likely to benefit more from such an infusion. Celiac disease shows up as intolerance to gluten, a substance found in whole grains like barley, wheat, oats, etc. If you are affected by celiac disease, your intestinal villi – the tiny protrusions of the intestine, responsible for absorption are in an impaired condition. As a result, your system finds it difficult to absorb needful mineral – like iron, from the foods you eat.

Apart from infusion of iron, your dietitian will advise you to take foods laden with iron. It is one sure way to gradually increase your hemoglobin level. Foods rich in iron include liver of beef, seafood – especially – oysters, leg of turkey, tuna, shrimp, eggs, etc. Among plant based foods, iron may be sourced from rice (brown variant), peanuts, tofu, breads made of whole wheat, etc.

The impact of iron infusion make take some time to show up. In some cases, it has taken more than 3 weeks for the benefits to come by. However, in a few cases, positive effects have been experienced in as early as 7 days’ time. Once infusion sittings begin, you need to keep track of the side effects and persistence or discontinuation of some of the signs of anemia. As noted, distinct signs of anemia include tiredness, respiratory problems, rapid or erratic heartbeats, feeling dizzy, colder arms and legs, paleness of face, etc. A few people may also turn more sensitive to microbial infections – this is mainly due to compromised immunity levels.

In sum, anemia triggered by deficiency of iron is treated by infusion. The first line of treatment for this condition is intake of oral supplements of iron. But, some people may not tolerate such oral supplements or presence of prior medical conditions may prevent an effective absorption of this mineral. In such instances, your treating physician may recommend an intravenous (IV) mode for infusion of iron. Most common side effects of this procedure are nausea, an altered sense of taste, pain in the joints, muscular spasms or pains, etc. itchiness and changes in blood pressure level.

In a few rare instances, infusion of iron is likely to result in a marked drop in blood pressure level (hypotension); you may see a drop in diastolic value to lower than 60 mmHg. Other serious side effects include respiratory problems, dizziness, internal swelling, difficulties to pass stools (constipation), itchiness or drowsiness. In such times, it is highly recommended to seek medical attention on an emergency mode. People living in the US must immediately contact an emergency helpline number (such as, 911 or the hotline numbers of FDA). You can also consider connecting with a local poison control center. Those who are living in Canada can either call Health Canada or a poison control unit in your province.

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