As many as 30% of people worldwide have anemia resulting from prolonged iron deficiency, which can stem from a variety of root causes. Often, iron deficiency anemia results from a lack of iron or protein in your diet, but anemia can also be caused by pregnancy without sufficient vitamin supplements, blood loss, or intestinal disorders. Luckily, because anemia is so common, there are a variety of treatment options open to you. If you think you have anemia, talk to your doctor. They’ll likely refer you to one of the following treatment options.
Iron & Vitamin Supplements
The most common treatment for anemia is iron supplements, often along with dietary changes that encourage protein and iron ingestion. Your doctor may prescribe iron along with vitamin C, which aids iron absorption, or if you’re worried about a young child having anemia, it may be in liquid form. Iron supplements are generally over-the-counter tablets that are best taken on an empty stomach, but it may not be possible in all cases, because iron tablets can cause nausea. If you’re prescribed iron supplements, your symptoms should start to fade in about a week, but you should keep taking the supplements for as long as your doctor tells you to make sure you’ve fully replenished your body’s iron stores.
In some people, iron deficiency causes prolonged nausea, which means it’s time to look for an alternative solution. One option is a blood transfusion: high-iron red blood cells are injected into your blood in order to quickly increase the amount of iron in your system. If your anemia is too severe to be treated gradually by supplements, or if you have complications either stemming from your anemia or the supplements, your doctor may recommend this. Blood transfusions carry a small risk of infection, so it may be a more risky option.
Intravenous Iron Infusions
If you can’t take iron supplements and decline a blood transfusion, the next option your doctor may turn to is intravenous iron infusions. This doesn’t carry the infection risk of blood transfusions and is a non-supplement alternative treatment often prescribed to pregnant women or women who have just given birth. You shouldn’t take iron tablets while having an iron infusion or in the two-week period between the infusion and follow-up blood test. However, intravenous iron infusions aren’t risk-free: some brands of injectable iron increase your risk for conditions where the phosphates in your blood are dangerously low, and some patients choose to file a claim for compensation. Most iron infusions are used only as a last resort and are usually safe. As always, though, if you have any questions or concerns about non-supplement alternatives, speak to your doctor.
Iron deficiency is a very treatable condition, so if you’re concerned that you have it, speak to your doctor as soon as you can. Most of the time, iron deficiency can be treated just by making small changes to your diet and possibly taking iron supplements, but if you have severe iron deficiency anemia, you might have to look at different options.