Iron is a crucial mineral for your health and well-being. An iron infusion may help to raise your iron levels and is well-tolerated by most patients. However, it’s important that your health care professional takes steps to minimise the risk of an uncommon side effect known as iron staining.
Why do you need iron?
Your body relies on iron to produce haemoglobin, a protein in your red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body.
When your iron levels are low, you may experience a range of symptoms, including persistent tiredness, weakness and shortness of breath.
Boosting your iron levels
To boost your iron levels, your doctor may recommend:
- Eating more iron-rich foods such as lean red meat, leafy green vegetables or iron-fortified cereals alongside foods containing vitamin C, which aids iron absorption
- Taking iron supplements.
This works well for many people but not for everyone. Diet and supplementation may not work well enough if you:
- Have an underlying condition (like inflammatory bowel disease) that makes it harder to absorb nutrients from food
- Struggle with the side effects of iron supplements
- Need a rapid boost in your iron levels (due to pregnancy, for example).
That’s where an iron infusion may help. You’re connected to an intravenous drip for about 30 minutes – it can be a convenient way to offset a nutritional deficiency and boost your energy levels.
Iron infusions are an increasingly common treatment approach and work well for most patients. However, like any treatment, there are some potential risks. One of those is staining.
What is an iron infusion stain?
When you receive intravenous medications, there’s a small risk of something called ‘extravasation.’ That happens when the solution leaks out of your veins and into the surrounding tissues. It’s not necessarily a problem – but it can be when the solution has its own colour.
That brings us to an iron infusion stain – a rusty brown discolouration where the iron entered your body and spread through your muscles. It may extend up and down your arm, for example.
Skin staining is an uncommon side effect of an iron infusion but it can be permanent and may cause understandable distress.
Your health care professional should talk to you about the potential long-term side effects of an iron infusion so that you can make an informed decision about your treatment. In many cases, the benefits outweigh the risks but it is essential that you’re well-informed.
Responding quickly to the early signs of staining
If you begin to experience iron staining, it’s important that your health care professional responds quickly to try to prevent it spreading further.
If you begin to experience any pain, swelling or soreness at the injection site or see signs of swelling or discolouration, please tell your health care professional immediately. They should then stop the infusion and remove the cannula. This may help to reduce the risk of a large stain (though more research is needed).
Addressing an iron stain
Once an iron stain happens, there are limited options for reversing it. Various techniques, such as massage or lymphatic drainage, have been tried without success. The most promising treatment seems to be a series of laser therapy treatments.
Reducing the risk of an iron stain
Given the difficulties of treating an iron stain, the wisest approach is to reduce the risk of one occurring in the first place.
Strategies to reduce the risk of an iron stain include:
- Using the appropriate cannula size
- Securing the cannula to minimise movement
- Not compressing the site with a bandage
- Avoiding night-time infusions
- Only giving infusions to patients who are able to report pain, discolouration or swelling (e.g. conscious patients).
Moonee Valley Specialist Centre’s approach to iron infusions
We pride ourselves in our patient-friendly approach and strong track record. We have performed over 3,500 iron infusions without staining a patient.
When you come to us, you’ll be treated by an experienced clinician. Extravasation happens when the needle pierces through the vein and causes iron to leak into your tissues – that’s why we don’t let juniors practice on you. We pride ourselves on our care and skill with the insertion of your cannula – one of the most significant aspects when it comes to iron staining.
Nor do we sit you in a room with many other patients and disappear. With us, you benefit from privacy and close attention.
To further reduce the risk of an iron stain, we:
- Choose the largest vein then use the smallest needle – we often use the cubital fossa veins (in the bend of your elbow) as these tend to be less painful, ‘juicier’ and, in our experience, have less risk of extravasation
- Use gravity lines rather than pumps (to ensure a slow drip-feed of the solution into your veins, reducing the risk of overflow)
- Stay by your side throughout your infusion, keeping an eye out for any early signs of iron staining – either Dr Connelly or one of our practice nurses monitors you closely throughout your treatment meaning we can respond quickly to any concerns.
Getting started with an iron infusion
Before you can have your iron infusion, you’ll need a blood test.
If you would prefer not to attend a GP appointment to order a blood test to check your iron levels, you can order a pathology form through our centre. We commonly order a Full Blood Examination (FBE) along with iron studies.
Once we have your blood results (or a referral from your GP), we will:
- Meet with you and review your blood tests
- Insert your cannula and start your iron infusion
- Monitor you closely
- Arrange follow-up blood tests.
Ready to get started? Please book your appointment today.
All information is general and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Moonee Valley Specialist Centre can consult with you to confirm if a particular treatment or procedure is right for you. Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. A second opinion may help you decide if a particular treatment is right for you.