What is iron?

Iron is one of the minerals in the human body. It is one of the components of hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that helps blood carry oxygen throughout the body.

If you do not have enough iron, your body cannot make hemoglobin, and you may develop anemia. This is known as iron-deficiency anemia, the most common type of anemia.

Factors that can lower your body's supply of iron include:

  • Blood loss (caused by ulcers, some cancers, and other conditions; and, in women, during monthly periods).
  • A diet that doesn't have enough iron in it.
  • Taking medications that interfere with the ability of the body to absorb iron.
  • An increase in the body's need for iron (for instance, in women during pregnancy).

What are the symptoms of anemia?

There are several symptoms that may occur in all types of anemia. They are:

Who is most likely to develop iron-deficiency anemia?

Anyone can develop iron-deficiency anemia, although the following groups have a higher risk:

  • Women: Blood loss during monthly periods and childbirth can lead to anemia.
  • People over 65, who are more likely to have iron-poor diets.
  • People who are on blood thinners such as aspirin, Plavix┬«, Coumadin┬«, or heparin.
  • People who have kidney failure (especially if they are on dialysis), because they have trouble making red blood cells.
  • People who have trouble absorbing iron.

Who receives intravenous iron supplementation?

Patients who receive IV iron usually do so because they cannot take oral iron. These include the following:

  • Patients who are bleeding in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract (the gut) and need to replace iron quickly. (IV iron is absorbed by the body more rapidly than oral iron.)
  • Patients who have inflammatory bowel disease (diseases of the intestines that cause pain, diarrhea, and weight loss), and cannot take oral iron because it upsets their GI tract.
  • Patients who are on kidney dialysis, who often lose blood during dialysis. In addition, these patients are usually taking an ESA and may need extra iron.
  • Patients with iron-deficiency anemia who are having high blood loss surgery (> 500 ml) within the next 2 months and need to replace iron quickly. (IV iron is absorbed by the body more rapidly than oral iron.)
  • Patients with celiac disease (gluten intolerance.)
  • Cancer patients who have anemia and are taking an ESA.