Anemia is a pretty common condition, something you could be facing yourself. It can affect both men and women, however, it is especially common in women of their reproductive age. Women have a higher demand for iron and also lose blood during menstrual bleeding. So, they may be affected by a kind of anemia called iron deficiency anemia. This is where iron infusions come into play.
Iron infusions are generally given to patients having severe iron deficiency. It helps rapidly meet up the body’s demand for iron and boosts red blood cell production. So iron infusions are good, right?
Unfortunately, iron infusions may come with some undesirable side effects. Many people who have to take iron infusions aren’t really aware of the drawbacks and think that the therapy is making things worse. But that’s not the case.
In this article, you’ll learn how iron infusions work, why you might be feeling worse after iron infusion, and whether there are better alternatives.
So let’s get into it.
Table of Content
Who are Iron Infusions for?
Iron infusions might be recommended for anyone having a severe enough iron deficiency. Iron is a very important mineral necessary for many different functions of the body. The most important role of iron is in the production of hemoglobin, which is a protein that allows red blood cells to transport oxygen.
A lack of iron in the body causes hemoglobin production to decrease, causing a condition called iron deficiency anemia. In normal cases, this deficiency can be met up by taking a good iron-rich diet with meat and leafy vegetables. However, in severe cases like late pregnancy or after major surgery, it might be necessary to get some iron in your body as fast as possible. For patients like these, the best option is Iron Infusions. It is the fastest method to directly replenish the body’s iron stores.
In most cases, oral iron supplements are considered the first choice in treating iron deficiency. Iron infusions and injections are reserved for more complicated cases.
How Should You Feel after an Iron Infusion?
You might feel a little bit of anxiety about getting an iron infusion as it’s not a common procedure. But don’t worry iron infusions are very safe and hassle-free.
If it’s your first time, you might feel a little bit of discomfort as it is a new experience for your body. You might experience some flu-like symptoms after iron infusion, like sweating, facial flushing, unpleasant taste in the mouth, nausea, muscle cramps, etc. These are completely normal and will subside in a day or two. They normally don’t require any medical treatment or intervention. Many preparations also include antihistamines to lessen these reactions.
In a day or two, the reactions to the iron infusions should disappear and you should start feeling better as the iron does its job. You’ll feel all the symptoms of anemia start to fade, feel more energetic, and active, along with having a better sensation of well-being. In short, you’ll feel a lot better than before you had an infusion.
However, there might be some lingering side effects of iron infusions. These are rare and aren’t seen in the vast majority of people taking iron intravenously. But, it’s better to know about these beforehand.
So now let’s discuss some of the side effects of iron infusion.
What are the Side Effects of Iron Infusions?
Iron infusions are generally very safe and cause no harm to the patient. The infusion usually takes only about 15 minutes and the patient can leave after about an hour of observation. But unfortunately, iron infusions can come with some minor to moderate side effects.
Some common side effects of iron infusions:
- Swelling of face, arms, lower legs, or feet.
- Dizziness or disorientation
- Blurry vision or other visual disturbances
- Chest tightness
- Difficulty in breathing
- Slow or fast heartbeat
These side effects are common and usually pass by themselves without any serious complications. These reactions are caused by the body’s adaptive mechanisms in response to a large amount of iron suddenly being introduced to the body. These might be the reasons why you’re feeling worse after iron infusion. But you don’t have to worry about those.
However, in some rare cases, serious reactions to iron infusions can occur. These reactions are similar to those of anaphylactic shock.
In such a case, emergency medical attention is required. If you face any of these side effects, contact your doctor as soon as possible.
Severe side effects of iron infusions:
- Abdominal pain
- Severe chest pain
- Irregular heartbeat
- Severe headaches
- Seizures or unconsciousness
These reactions are very rare and aren’t commonly seen in the majority of patients taking regular iron infusions. To ensure the safety of the patient and prevent any serious side effects, a patient has to stay under observation for at least an hour after an infusion. This is to monitor the patient’s health and to ensure that if any adverse reactions occur, they can be dealt with immediately.
What are the Complications of Iron Infusions?
In some rare cases, iron infusions may lead to severe or even life-threatening conditions. These types of complications are usually idiosyncratic, meaning that they can’t be predicted and it only happens if the patient has a rare genetic incompatibility with intravenous iron preparations. The general term used for this type of reaction is hypersensitivity.
Some of the complications that may arise from iron infusions are as follows:
Allergic reaction or Anaphylaxis:
In rare cases, a person may be allergic to iron infusions or any of the ingredients used in its preparation. This may lead to an allergic reaction or type 1 hypersensitivity. In severe cases, it may lead to anaphylactic shock. It causes sudden rash, itching, swelling, difficulty in breathing, the closing of the windpipe, etc.
In case of anaphylactic shock, epi-pen (epinephrine) should be used immediately and the person affected must be taken to the hospital.
Another reaction that may be caused by iron infusions is angioedema. It’s mainly a biochemical response of the body to foreign or unknown substances. The body releases various chemical mediators which cause swelling, predominantly seen in the face. It isn’t a serious complication, but it can cause great discomfort as it may last for hours or days.
Normally, antihistamines or steroid medications are used to treat angioedema. These lessen the body’s immune response and inhibit the release of biochemical mediators. But the treatment of angioedema may vary based on the cause.
Hypophosphatemia is a condition in which the body faces various problems due to the deficiency of phosphate salts, which is an essential mineral required for biological functions.
Iron infusions cause increased excretion of phosphate through urine. Lack of phosphate causes various biological processes of the body to slow down. This causes symptoms like muscle weakness, fatigue, appetite loss, feelings of unwellness, irritability, numbness, etc. Hypophosphatemia is one of the reasons patients complain about still feeling tired after iron infusions and are feeling worse after iron infusion.
Hypophosphatemia after an iron infusion is quite rare. But if severe hypophosphatemia is observed, the iron infusion is stopped and IV phosphate is administered.
Iron Overload or Hemochromatosis:
Hemochromatosis is a condition in which the body stores excess amounts of iron, which leads to iron-related toxicities. This is also called iron overload.
Hemochromatosis is usually hereditary, caused by genetic abnormalities. However, excess iron infusions may also secondary hemochromatosis. This is a delayed reaction to the iron infusion. It’s also a long-term side effect of iron infusion. The symptoms of iron overload include fatigue, irregular heartbeats, joint pain, stomach pain, unexplained weight loss, etc.
In case of iron overload, firstly blood iron levels are measured using blood tests. Then, iron-chelating agents may be used to neutralize the excess iron or blood may be removed by therapeutic phlebotomy.
Iron Infusions vs Iron Injections
At this point, you might be having a few questions. Like how are iron infusions different from iron injections? Aren’t they supposed to be the same thing? And if iron infusions have these side effects, iron injections must be the better option, right?
Actually, iron infusions and iron injections use the same medicine, namely iron dextran. This can be found under various brand names like INFed, Pri-Dextra, Dxferrum, etc.
In injections, iron dextrose is administered intramuscularly, or into the muscles, usually in the buttocks. This is convenient as it takes less time and can be given if a patient can’t take oral iron. But it causes some problems like pain at the site of injection, discoloration of the skin, tingling in the hands or feet, etc.
On the other hand, iron infusions use iron dextran in a solution as an intravenous drip. This allows the iron to directly go into the bloodstream, minimizing any adverse reactions at the tissue level. However, it takes longer and is more inconvenient. So despite patients may be feeling worse after iron infusion, it is the most commonly practiced method.
Despite this, due to the relative lack of side effects, iron infusions are the preferred method of iron replacement therapy.
How to Get More Iron Naturally:
Iron is an essential nutrient. As you’ve already read, the deficiency of iron can lead to anemia along with other serious health problems. So, it is necessary to keep the body’s iron intake at an optimum level.
The Recommended Daily Allowance for iron in both men and women is 8 mg/day. However, for premenopausal women, the requirement can be as high as 18 mg/day, and during pregnancy, it’s 27 mg/day. So, it’s very important to make sure that your diet contains enough iron to support the demands of your body.
For women, bleeding during menstruation is the main cause of the iron deficiency. To learn more it, check out this article on pain during periods.
Here is a list of common supermarket foods that are rich in iron.
Foods that are rich in iron:
- Shellfish – 3 mg of iron/100 g
- Spinach – 2.7 mg of iron/100 g
- Beef liver – 6.5 mg of iron/100 g
- Red meat – 2.7 mg of iron/100 g
- Quinoa – 1.6 mg of iron/100 g
- Broccoli – 1 mg of iron/100 g
- Tofu – 2.6 mg of iron/100 g
- Fish – 1.7 mg of iron/100 g
- Legumes – 3.3 mg of iron/100 g
So try to incorporate these ingredients into your diet to ensure you have a steady supply of iron for your body.
But be careful about eating more red meat and animal fat. Taking too much animal protein can cause health issues like Hugh cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart problems. To find out more here is a great article about how what foods are high in trans fat.
Still Have Questions?
Can an iron infusion make you feel worse?
Flu-like symptoms after iron infusions are common. These tend to occur as the body treats iron as a foreign substance. These symptoms usually subside in a day or two.
Is it normal to feel more tired after an iron infusion?
Tiredness or fatigue may be a side effect of iron transfusion. So you might be feeling worse after iron infusion. It is usually nothing to worry about. After the iron is taken in by the body tissue. You should feel much better than before you had the infusion.
How long do you feel sick after an iron infusion?
Iron infusions may cause some minor side effects that may make you feel sick. These symptoms are similar to an allergy and tend to pass within a few hours. If these symptoms persist for more than a few days, consult your doctor.
How long do side effects from iron infusion last?
The side effects of iron infusions typically last for a few hours to one or two days. They usually pass on their own without any problems. If these symptoms last for more than a few days or more serious symptoms develop, seek medical attention immediately.
If you’re feeling worse after iron infusion, there’s nothing to be worried about. Always remember, the doctor is well aware of the negative effects of a drug, but medically the pros outweigh the cons. So, the doctor prescribes you the medicine as it will do far more good than harm.
I hope this article has given you a sense of ease. Do check out our other articles about nutritional diets and health tips. Have a great one!