Iron overdose – too much iron in the blood

While iron deficiency is quite common in the population, an oversupply of  iron  rarely occurs in a balanced diet. However, one of the possible causes of iron accumulation is an overdose of iron supplements, especially when people fear suffering from iron deficiency and therefore resort to iron tablets without consulting a doctor. However, various diseases and other factors can also trigger an excess of iron. What are the symptoms and consequences of an iron overdose? When is the iron level in the blood too high and what can you do if the iron level is high?

Iron Overdose: Triggers & Causes

In healthy people, an accumulation of iron through nutrition is almost impossible, since there are various regulatory mechanisms that prevent such an oversupply. If the iron stores are full, the body automatically absorbs less iron. However, iron overload from food containing iron can occur, for example, as part of an iron storage disease, hemochromatosis or hemosiderosis. But there are other causes of oversupply:

  • Hemochromatosis  (hemosiderosis) is an iron metabolism disorder that leads to increased iron absorption in the intestine However, too much iron in the body can cause the trace element to build up in the liver and other organs. In the worst case, organ failure can result.
  • In addition, severe  liver damage,  for example due to alcohol abuse or hepatitis, can be the cause of an overdose of iron from food.
  • Certain forms of anemia, aplastic anemia and hemolytic anemia, can also  cause  excess iron. Leukemia  is also  one of the possible triggers.
  • In addition,  excessive intake of iron tablets  or iron-fortified foods can cause iron overdose. Therefore, such tablets and other iron supplements should never be used without a doctor’s recommendation. Such a recommendation is often made in the case of a diagnosed iron deficiency, iron deficiency anemia or an increased need, for example during pregnancy and breastfeeding. But here, too, it is important to stick to the recommended dosage.
  • In addition, too high iron levels in the blood can also be a result of a larger amount of  blood transfusions  .
  • Elevated iron levels during  pregnancy  are normal and therefore usually not a cause for concern.

Iron Overdose: Symptoms and Consequences

Long-term use of iron supplements can cause chronic iron overload in adults. An uncontrolled high iron intake is by no means advisable.

There is a suspicion that with high concentrations of iron in the blood, the anti-cancer protective effect of vitamins is reduced and more free radicals are released. Elevated iron levels are associated with some types of cancer, but the risk of developing  arteriosclerosis  and cardiovascular disease could also increase as a result of an oversupply of iron. In addition, iron deposits in the liver are possible, which can  lead to cirrhosis of the liver  , and damage to the  pancreas  can also occur.

Iron overload often does not cause specific  symptoms.  However, you may experience pain such as abdominal cramps,  joint pain ,  or stabbing pains in your chest. Such complaints should therefore always be clarified by a doctor. Other possible symptoms are tiredness and lack of concentration as well as a bronze discoloration of the skin.

Iron Poisoning: Recognizing the Signs

In extreme cases, an overdose of iron-containing tablets or dietary supplements can trigger acute symptoms of poisoning. This can happen to children in particular if they swallow large quantities of iron tablets unsupervised. Possible symptoms of iron poisoning include:

  • Vomit
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • stomach pain
  • Bleeding in the digestive tract, blood in the stool

The symptoms appear within a few hours. This can lead to blood clotting disorders, kidney and liver damage and  cardiac arrhythmia  . Iron poisoning can be fatal in severe cases, so this is an emergency.

The point at which an iron overdose  becomes dangerous depends on the person’s age, weight, and iron status. For example, a toxic dose for a two- to three-year-old child would be 400 milligrams of iron.

What is the maximum amount of iron per day?

To avoid overdosing on iron, care should be taken not to exceed the recommended daily dose. This is  15 milligrams per day  for women  of childbearing age, after menopause  the daily requirement is 10 milligrams. During pregnancy and lactation, the recommended daily dose is 30 or 20 milligrams. Men  aged 19 and over should consume 10 milligrams of iron daily through their diet.

In order to avoid an overdose, the Federal Institute for Risk Research (BfR) recommends a maximum amount of 6 milligrams per day in relation to food supplements.

Increased iron level: when is the blood level too high?

The iron value (ferrum, FE) in the blood is too high from the following values:

Alter upper limit women upper limit men
18-39 years over 165 µg/dl over 155 µg/dl
40-59 years over 134 µg/dl over 168 µg/dl
from 60 years over 149 µg/dl over 120 µg/dl

For babies and children, the upper limit depends primarily on their age.

If the iron level in the blood is increased, the ferritin level, as well as the transferrin level and the number of red blood cells should always be measured in order to determine a cause of the iron overload.

Iron level too high: what to do if there is too much iron in the blood?

In  acute iron poisoning  , depending on how long ago the iron overdose was taken, an attempt is made to get the iron preparations out of the body by vomiting or sucking out the contents of the stomach. If it is too late for this, the drug deferoxamine is administered in cases of severe poisoning to support the excretion of iron. Fluid is also given intravenously.

Mild  iron accumulation  without symptoms usually does not require therapy. However, those affected should make sure that they consume less iron. This means avoiding foods that are particularly rich in iron, such as offal and whole grain products, but also dietary supplements with iron, such as multivitamin preparations. While the simultaneous intake of  vitamin C  promotes the absorption of iron, the tannic acid in  coffee  and black  tea , the  phosphorus  in cola or the calcium in  milk  can inhibit iron absorption. Zinc tablets can also help to reduce iron absorption.

A common form of treating high iron levels is bloodletting, in which a large amount of blood is drawn at regular intervals until the iron levels are no longer elevated. However, it can take several weeks or months for this to happen.

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