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Iron is an essential mineral needed by the body for hemoglobin production. Hemoglobin is found in red blood cells and it enables them to transport oxygen. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia.

Iron supplements are used to prevent anemia or to cure it.

Caution and contraindications

Persons who are allergic to iron or to any ingredient used in iron supplements should not use iron supplements. The same goes for persons with high levels of iron in blood, because it may lead to iron overdose.

Before taking iron supplements, all persons, even healthy ones, are advised to consult a doctor in order to prevent eventual complications.

This especially goes for pregnant or nursing women or women who are trying to conceive, for people who are taking prescription or non-prescription medicines, herbal preparations or supplements, people who have allergies to drugs, foods or other, medical conditions and diseases like Crohn’s disease, colon problems or peptic ulcer, kidney problems, liver problems, thalassemia, people who have anemia not caused by iron deficiency, history of alcohol abuse or frequent blood transfusions.

Although the specific interactions are not documented, there is a possibility that iron supplements may interact with other medication a patient is taking so he or she needs to report them to their doctor before taking iron.

Side effects of iron

Gastrointestinal problems occurring while taking iron supplements mostly depend on dosage and may include nausea, indigestion, constipation, heartburn, vomiting and diarrhea. Stool color may become darker if using iron sulfide.

Taking iron sulfate with food may reduce the gastrointestinal side effects, although it may also reduce absorption of iron.

Constipation caused by the use of iron can be relieved with docusate sodium and with increased intake of water.

Iron supplements, especially if liquid, may cause stains on teeth. This can be prevented by diluting the supplements in water or juice and drinking with a straw.

Local side effects may include gangrene and local corrosion in pregnant women.

Metabolic side effects included reduced absorption of thyroxine.

Iron overload or hemosiderosis accumulation of body may happen in persons who are genetically predisposed or have an underlying condition which contributes to iron accumulation. Hemosiderosis is treated with phlebotomy and long-term use of deferoxamine.

Immunological side effects are rare and include gastroenteritis in persons who receive deferoxamine for hemosiderosis. Also, there is a possibility that bacteria that cause gastroenteritis become virulent during iron overload. In this case, the treatment with deferoxamine is stopped and therapy against bacteria is started.

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