Everything you need to know about iron infusions

29th October 2018

Are you feeling tired and run down? It’s just because you’re busy – right?! Or not getting enough sleep!?


Iron deficiency is an increasingly common problem in Australia, with the World Health Organisation estimating 8% of pre-schoolers, 12% of pregnant women and 15% of non-pregnant women of reproductive age are anaemic.


Symptoms of iron deficiency commonly include feeling tired, short of breath, dizzy or light-headed, or experiencing an irregular or fast heart rate. Headaches and increased infection can also occur. Children may seem tired or irritable when they are suffering from iron deficiency, and they may also have behavioural problems or strange food cravings (like eating dirt).


It is important to see your GP if you feel you may have iron deficiency. Aside from relieving your symptoms, iron deficiency can be an important early sign of underlying diseases like coeliac disease (malabsorption of iron) or bowel cancer (caused by microscopic bleeding from a polyp or cancer).


Why are we deficient in iron?


Iron deficiency occurs when iron losses or our requirement for iron exceeds the amount our body can absorb. There can be many factors at play including diet, gut disorders, breast feeding, menstrual problems and medications.


Dietary iron comprises haem iron (animal sources) and non-haem iron (vegetable and cereal sources). Haem iron is absorbed more efficiently. It is recommended that people eat foods high in Vitamin C together with foods that contain iron to improve absorption and avoid tea, coffee or calcium supplements after an iron-rich meal. Cooking your plant foods can also improve the amount of available iron too.


Rebuilding iron stores


Managing iron deficiency involves both treating the cause of low iron and replenishing low iron stores. Replacement can come in the form of tablets or liquid iron, or an intravenous infusion of iron.


Iron infusions are particularly useful for those who cannot tolerate oral iron supplementation due to gastrointestinal side effects (such as abdominal pains, constipation or diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, bloating and dark bowel actions).


GPs on Bayview is pleased to offer iron infusions to new and existing patients in a safe community setting. Our preferred infusion uses Ferric carboxymaltose (Ferinject), which is well tolerated and the risk of anaphylaxis is exceedingly rare. A number of trials have shown efficacy and safety of this agent in iron-deficient patients in a range of clinical settings.


The infusions are run over approximately 30 minutes after commencing slowly and monitoring for side effects. A nurse also monitors patients for the duration of an infusion.


Considerations for iron infusions


Iron infusions are not safe in patients who have a known reaction or hypersensitivity to Ferinject, any of its ingredients or any other form of iron. Infusions are also not suitable for people with anaemia that is not caused by iron deficiency or if you have too much iron in your body, referred to as iron overload or a condition called haemachromatosis.


Careful consideration and discussion about safety of iron infusions is required if you are pregnant, particularly in your first trimester of pregnancy (up to 12 weeks), breastfeeding or trying to fall pregnant.


Skin staining (brown discolouration) may occur due to leakage of iron into the tissues around the drip site. Although this is uncommon, the stain can be long lasting or permanent. Our qualified and experienced staff take meticulous care of the drip site to ensure it remains well placed throughout the procedure, minimising the risk of skin staining.


So if you’re feeling low in iron and not tolerating oral replacement, see a doctor at GPs on Bayview and start feeling better today.


This article was written by Dr Tom Mildenhall

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