What It's Like Getting an Iron Infusion
Last updated: March 2023
If you have Crohn's or UC, you have likely fallen into the "low iron" category. Malabsorption of key nutrients like iron, vitamin D, and B12 are common among IBD patients, especially if you have had part – or all – of your small and large intestines removed.
Low ferritin levels with Crohn's and UC
I have fallen in the "low" or "lower end of normal" range with my iron and ferritin levels for years. (Just to clarify, ferritin is a blood protein that contains iron. The ferritin test tells your GI how much iron your body actually stores. Low levels indicate anemia.) Despite taking oral iron supplements, my ferritin levels were so low that I needed an iron infusion to restore it back to the normal range.
Considering getting iron infusions
While many Crohn's and UC patients have had iron infusions, some patients are hesitant about the process, how it will make them feel, and what to expect while receiving it. Here is what to expect should you be faced with making the decision about whether or not an iron infusion is for you.
Where you receive the infusion
My GI called in a prescription for me to receive my series of 3 iron infusions at a local infusion center. Some infusions can be done at a hospital or your doctor's office, but I chose a local infusion center since it is close to my house.
I could schedule all 3 infusions ahead of time, spacing them out a week apart, per my doctor's instructions. I scheduled my appointments based on my schedule, as it didn't matter if I went in the morning or afternoon. I didn't have to take any pre-meds or fast prior to the infusion.
How long iron infusions can take
While it depends on the dosage, I received 300ml of iron over the span of 1.5 hours. By the time I checked in, got my IV put in, and the drip began, I didn't get started until about 30 minutes after my appointment time.
Then I had to wait an additional 30 minutes after the infusion was complete. This was for observation to make sure I didn't have a reaction and so that saline could drip through the IV, making sure I got every bit of the iron dosage. So, in total, the appointment was about 2.5 hours from check-in to discharge.
You may be thinking that is a big time commitment during the week, especially if you need several infusions. But I was able to bring my laptop and do work while sitting in my comfy chair receiving my iron. Also, I considered how much time I was losing due to being exhausted all of the time and figured that spending these hours improving my health and energy was time well spent.
How it feels
While the color is a bit unnerving – it looks like a bag of brewed coffee is dripping into your arm – the infusion itself is painless. You will have your vitals taken before, during, and after the infusion, making sure your body is tolerating it OK. But if you start to feel discomfort at any point, let your nurse know.
Based on any allergies or reactions to medications in the past, your GI may also prescribe a pre-medication like Tylenol or Benadryl to make sure there are no adverse reactions. So be sure to speak with your medical provider ahead of time should you have questions.
The results for your Crohn's or UC symptoms
Some patients feel the immediate effects of the infusion, while others feel it after a few doses or a few days. I, personally, have noticed a difference in as little as 24 hours after my first dose, noting that I can power through the day without a nap, which was almost impossible before the iron infusion.
But, don't be concerned if you don't feel like you can run a marathon upon initially receiving your iron, it definitely will take some time for your body to adjust and react accordingly.
Weighing your iron options
Other questions I often get are about how much it costs. While it all depends on your insurance, my infusions were a $21 copay per session, which I feel is worth it when considering the results.
Another benefit of the iron infusion vs. taking iron orally is that it bypasses the GI tract – preventing stomach upset and constipation – unlike the pill form.
Overall, I have found iron infusions to be beneficial and simple. If you have additional questions, be sure to talk to your doctor about any concerns you have so that you can make the best decision for your body and health.
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