a woman's reflection in an infusion bag

What Iron Infusions Are Like

For the last few months, my doctors were monitoring my hemoglobin levels, in case of anemia. Since I was bleeding from my ulcerative colitis flare, my care team really wanted to make sure that I wasn’t anemic. Once I started shedding more hair than normal, this became a greater concern and I asked to have my iron levels checked as well.

Iron levels and ulcerative colitis

Though my levels weren’t too low, my hematologist suggested that I try to bolster my iron levels. My GI, however, was concerned about the possibility of experiencing digestive distress, since iron pills have been known to have that side effect. The hematologist wondered if getting 3 IV infusions of iron would be a better option for me. I agreed and we set up the infusions.

Iron infusion center

Since I'm on biologic infusions every 6 weeks for my UC, I’m already familiar with the infusion clinic. Basically, I check-in and then wait to be called into my room. At this infusion center, all the rooms are private, so I can spread out and play music. There is a large, comfortable chair that leans back and pops out a footrest. There is also a TV and a big window. All in all, the space is comfortable for a medical room.

Once I get settled, my nurses come in and take my vitals. They also set up the IV, which is an ordeal for me, seeing as I’m always hard to stick. The nurses have to warm my arm and give it a few taps until the vein shows.

Different from biologic infusion for UC

Once the IV is in, though, we’re ready to start the iron drip. Unlike with my biologic infusion, I'm not given any pre-medications — no Benadryl, Tylenol, or prednisone. According to my nurses, this is because the doctors are less worried about an allergic reaction, although they remind me to call them if I feel any kind of shortness of breath or itchiness.

The iron infusion process

The infusion itself takes 90 minutes, although this may vary depending on what particular infusion a patient is receiving. I spend the time working under the warm blankets and eating the pretzels they provide. Though infusions always test my patience, I’m often able to use the time to rest or get a few things done off my to-do list.

When the infusion finishes, the nurses return. I get my vitals taken again to check for any abnormalities post-treatment. I also get a saline flush put in the IV for 10 minutes, which lets the nurses monitor me for a few extra minutes before they let me go.

How I felt after the infusion

After the iron infusion, I don't feel any immediate effects. It can take days to weeks to feel any difference for most patients and I'm lucky that I don’t actually experience symptoms of anemia anyway. Still, I appreciate the opportunity to let my body replenish itself, similar to how I take supplements for my Vitamin D, biotin, and more.

Worth it as someone with ulcerative colitis

The word infusion can make the treatment sound unpleasant and, honestly, terrifying — especially if the patient has never experienced an IV drip. But the actual experience is quite effortless, especially since it doesn’t come with the same sleepiness as the Remicade infusions' pre-meds cause me.

Getting an iron infusion mostly requires patience and communication with the nurses, plus a tiny bit of pain tolerance for the IV pinch. The possibility of giving my body more resources to heal and function makes the whole process worth it for me.

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