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What Causes Iron Poisoning and How is it Treated?

Iron is an extremely crucial nutrient that is required by the body for carrying out various processes. It is an extremely important component of the circulatory system especially the blood. Iron deficiency can lead to a variety of medical conditions like developmental delays, behavioral disorders, and problems with the immune system. There are various ways to increase the levels of iron in the body by way of supplements and dietary modifications. However, what happens when there is excess of iron in the body to the extent that it results in toxicity. This is medically termed as Iron Poisoning.[1]

Taking iron supplements more than what is required or a child takes a dose prescribed for adults all can result in iron poisoning. It can also be caused due to faulty blood transfusions. Iron Poisoning can lead to severe irritation of the digestive tract which at times may result in gastrointestinal bleeding.[2]

Iron Poisoning can start showing its effects within hours of overdose. If left untreated or undiagnosed it may lead to liver damage. In fact according to various researchers Iron Poisoning is quite a major problem with significant impact on the GI and the circulatory systems of the body.[2]

In extremely rare cases of Iron Poisoning, there may be necrosis of the cells of the liver along with gastrointestinal obstruction and scarring which can pose a serious threat to the life of the affected individual. This is the reason why it is absolutely necessary to diagnose and treat Iron Poisoning as early as possible. In fact studies suggest that Iron Poisoning in children is a major factor in decreasing their mortality and morbidity. This article gives a brief overview of some of the potential causes and treatment options for Iron Poisoning.[1]

What Causes Iron Poisoning and How is it Treated?

What Causes Iron Poisoning?

Iron Poisoning can be caused due to various factors to include

  • Overdose: This is the most common cause of Iron Poisoning especially in children. This occurs mostly in children less than 5 years of age when they accidentally take iron supplement meant for adults. This constitutes for more than half of the cases of Iron Poisoning in children.[2]
  • Iron Overload: Some of the reasons for iron overload in the body include frequent blood transfusions usually to treat anemia along with intravenous iron therapy and supplements. People with liver dysfunction or a history of alcohol abuse tend to have iron toxicity causing Iron Poisoning.[2]
  • Genetic Causes: Hereditary hemochromatosis is one such genetic condition which predisposes the affected individual towards iron overload resulting in Iron Poisoning. This condition causes excess absorption of iron in the body causing significantly increased levels of iron.[2]

How is Iron Poisoning Treated?

Coming to the treatment which is extremely vital in cases of Iron Poisoning to prevent damage to vital organs of the body, management usually depends on the extent of poisoning. During the initial stage of treatment, the patient’s vital signs are monitored and if abnormal efforts are made to normalize them at the earliest. The physician then formulates a treatment strategy to include cleansing the body off excess iron.[2]

This is done by chelation therapy or whole bowel irrigation. This mode of treatment gets rid of any excess iron that has been stored which is causing Iron Poisoning and prevent further damage.[2]

Whole Bowel Irrigation: This is a procedure in which the bowel is thoroughly cleansed and any toxins in the stomach are flushed out. The patient will be asked to swallow a solution. The path of the solution is tracked through x-rays. As the solution passes through the stomach and the intestines it cleans away any traces of excess iron present in the digestive tract.[2]

Chelation Therapy: This is the most preferred procedure to manage Iron Poisoning as it rapidly removes any toxins from the body before it can harm any vital organs. A solution is injected in the body which binds with the toxins and gets eliminated from the body through urine thus removing the toxin from the body.[2]

It should be noted here that people with severe Iron Poisoning may need inpatient stay to stabilize their levels and get them back to normal. In some acute cases, ventilation support may be required till the iron levels normalize.[2]

When it comes to complications due to Iron Poisoning, this is a condition which if not treated can result in potentially life-threatening complications. Liver failure and cardiac complications are the primary complications of Iron Poisoning. Liver damage caused due to Iron Poisoning may ultimately lead to diabetes in the affected individual with its inherent symptoms.[2]

Severe diabetes can affect various body systems including eyes and nervous system. Cardiac complications can result in the individual having swelling of the lower extremities, problems with breathing, and severe fatigue.[2]

In conclusion, the overall prognosis of an individual with Iron Poisoning depends on the severity of the disease. If the individual is on medications for some other conditions then that also affects the outlook of the individual with Iron Poisoning.[2]

Any delay in the diagnosis and treatment of Iron Poisoning may dampen the chances of a complete recovery; however, if prompt treatment is started then in all likelihood the patient will recover completely after initiation of treatment.[2]

Iron Poisoning in children can have serious consequences. Thus it is important for caregivers and parents to keep all medications out of reach of small children to prevent any chance of them swallowing pills meant for adults and end up getting a condition like Iron Poisoning.[2]


Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:June 3, 2022

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