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What Are Iron Injections?

By Cindy Quarters
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia in the United States, according to the National Anemia Action Council. In many cases, the problem can be corrected by changes in diet or by taking oral iron supplements. In some cases, though, the best way to correct iron deficiency is through the use of iron injections. The injections can be given either intramuscularly, into the buttocks, or intravenously (IV). Both types must be administered by trained medical personnel.

Oral iron supplements are often used to increase iron levels, but oral iron tablets can cause uncomfortable side effects such as upset stomach and constipation. For people who need additional iron but are unable to get enough orally, the doctor may suggest iron injections. These injections can be given either in a muscle or intravenously, and they are an efficient way to get iron-rich fluid directly into the body. These injections help the body to build red blood cells more quickly than other forms of iron, and they are also helpful for people who are not able to absorb iron due to medication they are taking or for other reasons. This is the best form of supplementation for anyone who has a serious problem with anemia.

There are three main types of iron injections. Which one a patient is given is determined by his or her medical problems and physical condition. The most commonly used type of injection is iron dextran, which has the advantage of being able to be given as a single large dose. Iron dextran is available in both intramuscular and intravenous formulations.

For people who cannot tolerate iron dextran, ferumoxytol is a newer form of injectable iron, given in intravenous form only. This iron is administered in two doses, three to eight days apart. It does not take as long to administer ferumoxytol as it does to administer iron dextran, and it is generally well-tolerated and effective.

The third type of iron injection is referred to as a carbohydrate injection, because it includes a form of sugar along with the iron suspension. The two solutions that fall into this category are iron sucrose and ferric gluconate. Both are given in a series of multiple small doses, and they are administered in intravenous form only. These do not cause any allergic reactions in patients but require many trips to the doctor for the administration of the IVs.

Allergic reactions are possible with iron dextran and ferumoxytol iron injections, including anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening. Other possible side effects of all three types can include nausea, dizziness, flushing, muscle pain, joint pain, headache, fever, chills, a drop in blood pressure, and inflammation or pain at the injection site. The severity of the symptoms varies from person to person. Despite the possible drawbacks, for those who need them, iron injections can be beneficial, even life-saving, and well worth having to put up with some discomfort.

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Discussion Comments
By Rotergirl — On Aug 30, 2014

@Pippinwhite -- Glad your cousin got enlightened. I've seen a few like that.

Iron injections are no fun. I had to have them for a while when my periods were all screwed up when I was a teenager and I was nearly bleeding out every month. Well, that's an exaggeration, but I was losing a ton of blood and I got anemic. My mom found a Watkins dealer and made me take the most vile-tasting Beef, Iron and Wine Tonic. It was horrible. "Pleasant taste," my foot. It tasted about like you'd think it would: like licking a rusty pole!

So, I had iron injections. They were painful and they made me feel like crap for a while, but eventually, they made me feel better!

By Pippinwhite — On Aug 29, 2014

My cousin decided to go vegan with all her friends in college, but none of them did any research on how to get a balanced diet that contains enough B12, protein and iron. They subsisted on salads and fake cheese pizzas, mostly.

She became severely anemic and had to have IV iron infusions. She was really ticked off because she didn't understand how her new, healthy diet had landed her in the hospital. The hospital nutritionist talked to her and told her that being vegan was fine, but it was a lot of work in the beginning, and she might want to consider being a lacto-ovo vegetarian, or a pescatarian for a while, until she got the hang of eating vegan. That *really* made her mad, because her diet was so "world-conscious." And it was also killing her. She was deficient in iron, protein, B12 -- you name it.

However, after a couple of four-hour sessions with the iron infuser, she saw the light and started educating herself.

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