When Iron levels are low we have two goals – find out why the iron is low and replace your iron levels. Iron infusion may be part of this answer.
Why is iron important? Iron is the building block of haemoglobin, the molecule that carries oxygen in the red blood cell. Low iron can make it hard for the body to make enough red blood cells and this can cause fatigue, muscle aches and sometimes other symptoms like tongue pain, skin itch and brittle nails.
Once the low iron has been found on a test, your doctor wants to know why iron is low. This is generally due to three reasons – not eating enough iron rich food, you have trouble absorbing iron in the gut or you are losing iron by bleeding/blood donation/surgery.
The next thing to do will be to start an iron tablet or liquid while looking for the reason your iron is low. This might be things like a test for small or invisible blood in the bowel motions, help with heavy menstrual periods, or checking for gut problems like coeliac disease.
This can be fairly common as the iron tablets can cause constipation or gut bloating. Swapping to taking the iron tablet every second day can be a way of avoiding this but still absorbing enough iron tablet to help. If you cannot tolerate tablet or liquid iron at all then an iron infusion could be appropriate.
Iron infusion, like everything in medicine does have some risks so we want to really try the tablet iron first. Iron infusion has risks of allergic reaction to the iron which can even be the severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. The other main risk is of skin staining. If the iron leaks out of the vein during giving the iron, this can stain the skin – in effect a tattoo. This skin staining is permanent.
For the iron infusion, we bring you into the procedure room and place a drip, like at the hospital for giving fluid into the vein. After checking blood pressure and pulse we slowly give the iron over 15minutes. We then need to watch you for a further 30minutes to ensure you are well before getting you home. There can be some muscle and bone aches over the next 24 hours as the bone marrow absorbs the new iron. You will need a follow up test in one month and six months to see how the iron level is going.
If you think you would like to check your iron levels then book in and discuss with your GP.