Acute And Chronic Iron Toxicity: Symptoms & Treatment Options

Iron is an important mineral required by the body for formation of hemoglobin in red blood cells. Its depletion can lead to iron deficiency anemia. Usually the required amount of iron is available from the food that we eat. However, sometimes this may not be sufficient, especially in certain illnesses and condition such as pregnancy.

Health care practitioners often recommend patients including children to take iron supplements if they have iron deficiency anemia. Although iron supplements are beneficial, sometimes excess dose of iron can cause iron toxicity. Maximum amount of iron required by an adult is 45 mg.

It also depends on the age of patient.

Toxicity can develop above the dose of 10-20 mg/kg of elemental iron. Excess amount of iron can lead to iron toxicity with variable symptoms.

Symptoms Of Acute And Chronic Iron Toxicity

Iron toxicity can be acute or chronic. The symptoms may vary accordingly.

Symptoms of acute toxicity:

  • The early symptoms of overdose may develop within first 6 hours of consumption of iron supplements. The earliest symptoms can be related to gastrointestinal tract where iron is still getting absorbed. Excess of iron may irritate the stomach mucosa giving rise to pain in abdomen, vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea.
  • In case if iron irritates intestinal lining, it can lead to bleeding in stool, and blood vomits. Patient becomes lethargic with other symptoms such as low blood pressure, and increased respiratory rate. Severe toxicity can lead to shock which increases the risk of mortality.
  • Late symptoms of acute stage consist of low blood pressure, epileptic seizure, liver failure, low blood sugar, jaundice, and intestinal obstruction. The late symptoms may develop in 6 hours to 2 days after its excess consumption.

Iron toxicity can be chronic. The reasons can be different. Iron overload can be caused due to over absorption in certain hereditary conditions such as hemochromatosis. Excess can also occur in patients who require frequent blood transfusion. Increased amount in such cases can affect heart and liver. Heart or liver failure can cause swelling in lower limbs, breathing difficulty, fatigue, rapid heart rate etc.

Treatment Options For Iron Toxicity

Similar to other poisoning cases, iron toxicity has to be treated in emergency medical set up. If you are having symptoms either acute or chronic after taking iron supplements you have to consult your doctor immediately.

Treatment of iron toxicity consists of whole bowel irrigation to remove whatever iron supplement is left. This is done till the supplement tablets are not seen on X ray. Usually stomach wash is not necessary as most of the iron in stomach is eliminated through vomiting. Certain medicines are used to bind iron left in the body. The toxic compound is eliminated in urine afterwards.