7 Side Effects Of Iron Tablets

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Side Effects Of Iron Tablets

Iron tablets can cause side effects such as abdominal pain, cramps, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and black stools in some. They can also reduce zinc absorption and interact with medications. In people with hemochromatosis, iron could build to toxic levels through supplementation. Overdosing on iron can cause fluid build-up in the lungs, liver damage, and vomiting of blood.

Your body needs some heavy-duty iron power, no doubt! This important mineral is used to make hemoglobin, the protein in blood that transports oxygen from your lungs to other body parts, as well as myoglobin, the protein that gives oxygen to muscles. Iron is also used to make connective tissue and certain hormones.

Why Have Iron Supplements?

Even if you don’t get enough iron through foods, you may not immediately feel the effects. This is because your body can draw on iron reserves in the liver, muscles, bone marrow, and spleen. But when these stores run low, you can develop iron deficiency anemia. This causes your red blood cells to become smaller and have less hemoglobin. Consequently, your blood is able to supply less oxygen to your body. This can cause symptoms like fatigue, poor memory, stomach upset, and a loss in your ability to regulate body temperature or fight infections. Children may experience learning difficulties. And that’s where iron supplements can be helpful. Blood counts become normal for most people after taking supplements for about 2 months. In about 6 to 12 months, it’s possible to shore up iron levels even in the bone marrow.1 2

How Much Iron Do You Need?

The amount of iron that you need depends on your life stage. Adult men need 8 mg per day. But women between the ages of 19 and 50 need 18 mg. Pregnant women need 27 mg to avoid iron deficiency anemia as well as the risk of premature birth, low birth weight, and harm to the brain development of the baby. Babies and toddlers can also develop iron deficiency between the ages of 6–9 months especially if they don’t have solid foods rich in iron or formula fortified with iron.

Side Effects Of Iron Tablets

Iron tablets may be inevitable if you have a deficiency. But you do need to be wary of the adverse effects of iron supplementation. Side effects can occur as a response or reaction to the supplements themselves or as a result of overuse. Watch out for these side effects if you have been prescribed iron tablets.

1. Gastrointestinal Problems

Iron tablets can cause problems like abdominal pain, cramps, constipation, and diarrhea. Your doctor may advise you to take iron tablets with a little food or after eating to deal with these. You can also take a stool softener if constipation becomes a problem.3

2. Nausea And Vomiting

Higher doses of iron may cause vomiting or nausea. However, these side effects can be controlled by reducing the dose. Your doctor will also be able to recommend another form of supplement that may suit you better. For instance, people who suffer severely from side effects when they take ferrous sulfate are prescribed a different supplement known as ferrous gluconate, which has a lower concentration of iron.

3. Reduced Absorption Of Zinc

Iron in large quantities can reduce the absorption of zinc. And zinc deficiency can have a range of effects like slowing down of growth in babies and children, the delaying of sexual development, and impotence. It can also manifest as hair loss, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and skin and eye sores. It might help if you take zinc-rich foods and iron tablets at different times. Your doctor may also recommend zinc supplements if you have a deficiency.4

4. Black Stools

It’s normal for your stools to change color and become a grayish or greenish black color while you’re on iron tablets. In fact, some experts consider this to be a sign that your supplements are working. But black stools can also be a sign of internal bleeding. So check in with your doctor immediately if your stools look tarry and not just black or if they have streaks of red color. Also, speak to your doctor if your stomach feels sore or you get sharp pains in the abdomen.5

5. Stained Teeth

Taking iron in a liquid form can result in stained teeth. Try mixing your supplement in fruit juice, tomato juice, or water and drink it in with a straw so that it doesn’t come in contact with your teeth. Brushing your teeth with peroxide or baking soda can help remove iron stains from your teeth.6

6. Interaction With Some Medications

Iron tablets can reduce the absorption and effectiveness of certain medicines used to treat Parkinson’s disease, restless leg syndrome, goiter, hypothyroidism, and thyroid cancer. Leaving a gap of at least a couple of hours between these medications and iron supplements can be helpful.7

7. Toxicity For People With Hemochromatosis

Hemochromatosis is a genetically inherited disease that can cause iron to accumulate to toxic levels in the body. Without treatment, this disease can lead to problems like liver cancer, liver cirrhosis, and heart disease. People with this condition should not use iron supplements or vitamin C supplements.

Effects Of Iron Overdose

Iron can be extremely toxic if it’s taken in excessive amounts. The upper limit of iron per day has been defined as 40 mg till the age of 13 and 45 mg from the age of 14 onwards. An overdose can be particularly dangerous for children and might happen if a child gets hold of adult multivitamin pills or prenatal vitamins. In fact, iron overdose is a leading reason for fatal poisoning in kids below the age of 6.8

An iron overdose can cause effects like:

Fluid Build-up In The Lungs

Taking toxic amounts of iron can cause fluids to accumulate in your lungs. And when fluids build up, you may experience symptoms like coughing up of blood, gurgling, grunting, or wheezing sounds when you breathe, shortness of breath, excessive sweating, and pale skin. Trouble breathing when you lie down and anxiety are also possible signs.9

Gastrointestinal Problems

Gastrointestinal symptoms of an iron overdose include diarrhea, a metallic taste in the mouth, liver damage, nausea, vomiting of blood, and black and sometimes blood streaked stools.

Problems With The Circulatory System

Excessive amounts of iron can hamper your circulatory system and result in symptoms like dehydration, low blood pressure, and a rapid and weak pulse. Significantly low blood pressure can also cause you to go into shock.

Problems With The Nervous System

An iron overdose can have a severe impact on your nervous system. You may experience a reduced level of consciousness as soon as half an hour to an hour after the overdose and may go into a coma. Other signs include convulsions, drowsiness, dizziness, headache, fever, and a loss of interest in doing anything.

Changes In Skin Tone

Loss of color, flushing, and a bluish tinge in your fingertips and lips can be signs of an overdose.10

What Can You Do About It?

You need to get emergency medical attention if you notice signs of an iron overdose or suspect that someone has overdosed. Also, do keep in mind that symptoms can sometimes disappear after a few hours and then return after a day or later.

Using Iron Supplements Properly

Here are a few tips on how to use and store your iron tablets, so you can minimize side effects.

Keep Them In A Cool And Dry Place

Warmth and humidity can cause iron tablets to fall apart so your bathroom cabinet might not be the ideal place to store them. Store your tablets in a cool, dry place that’s inaccessible to children.

Stick To The Prescription

Taking excessive amounts of iron can lead to significant medical problems. So check with your doctor and take pills as directed.

Take It On An Empty Stomach

Iron is best absorbed on an empty stomach. However, as mentioned earlier, your doctor may recommend that you take it with a little food to ease side effects.

Avoid Taking It With Certain Foods

Calcium can interfere with the absorption of iron. So do not take calcium supplements or foods like milk which is rich in calcium along with your iron tablet. Also avoid having drinks or foods with caffeine and foods high in fiber like raw vegetables, bran, and whole grain along with iron – these too can make it tougher to absorb iron. Leave a gap of at least 2 hours between taking these foods and your iron supplement. You should also avoid taking antacids along with iron supplements.

Take It With Vitamin C

Vitamin C can help your body absorb iron. Therefore, some experts suggest drinking something rich in this vitamin, like orange juice, or taking a vitamin C supplement along with your iron tablet.11 12 Speak to your doctor about this before you try it, though.

References   [ + ]

1. Taking iron supplements. National Institutes of Health.
2, 7. Iron. National Institutes of Health.
3, 12. Iron deficiency anaemia – Treatment. National Health Service.
4. Zinc. National Institutes of Health.
5, 6. Learning About Iron Supplements. Government of Alberta.
8. Iron. National Institutes of Health.
9. Pulmonary edema. National Institutes of Health.
10. Iron overdose. National Institutes of Health.
11. Taking iron supplements. National Institutes of Health.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

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