What is anemia?
Anemia is when the body produces too little or small red blood cells to support the body. Red blood cells are made to carry oxygen to your lungs and remove carbon dioxide. When someone is anemic they may have several symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, feeling light headed, headache, brittle nails, cold sensitivity, shortness of breath, heavy periods, and fast heart rate.
Types of Anemia:
There are quite a few types of anemias that can occur. Some are minor, but such anemia like Aplastic and Sickle cell Anemia are life-threatening and need long-time medical treatment. The most common anemias are iron deficit anemia, vitamin deficient anemia, and chronic anemia.
How to treat Anemia:
If your anemia is minor then your doctor will prescribe you to take iron pills, up your iron intake in your diet, or put you on birth control if your anemia is from heavy menstruation. If your anemia is moderate then iron infusions are the quickest options to help you. Severe anemia requires blood infusions to immediately give you more blood, hence, more red blood cells. (I am only addressing iron infusions in this post)
My experience with Iron infusions:
Iron infusions sound scary, but in reality, they were my favorite part of the week when I had to get them. (my nurses were so kind. I miss them!) unless you are that super rare individual who goes into shock from an iron infusion that the doctors warn you about…. then that is not fun. Or maybe you hate needles … do not look !* I had to get iron infusions for a few reasons. 1: My red blood cells developed to be made smaller which means I need more red blood cells to be healthy. 2: Due to my IBS, I would have a flare up if I would try and take oral iron pills. 3: I had to be taken off my birth control also due to my IBS flares which were supposed to help my heavy periods.
What happens in an Iron infusion appointment?
First, you will get checked in to the hematology clinic and they will call you into an outpatient infusion room. These rooms are also used by chemo patients and others who would need types of infusions. The room will typically have a big recliner chair or they will have a small hospital bed. Also in the room, is a tv and magazines for your own enjoyment during the process. *we all know you are going to watch youtube the whole time, it’s okay). At your first iron infusion appointment, the nurse will address what she is going to do and the possible, but very rare risks iron infusions hold. The nurse will insert an IV into your arm and will keep you hooked up to the IV pump until it is finished. Depending on the dosage and frequency you are receiving, the infusion could take 1-4 hours.
What you should bring:
A soft pillow
Warm socks/wear loose clothing
Your personal water bottle (it is important to stay hydrated during any infusion)
A friend/family member to keep company
*if needles give you anxiety, try listening to music*
Iron infusion risks:
food may taste bland or different for a few hours
increased/decreased blood pressure or heart rate
shortness of breath
Iron toxicity *very rare but serious. It can lead to shock, loss of consciousness, and extreme low blood pressure*
How many times does someone get an iron infusion?
Depending on your severity, it may be a weekly trip to the hematologist for several weeks, once or twice a year. For me, I had one infusion per week for six weeks.
Iron infusions are the quickest way to amp up your iron levels and will help your anemia symptoms. Though red blood cells are made new every 120 days, the process of feeling a difference may take some time. Iron infusions will make this process quicker compared to taking oral supplements.
Your doctor will have a post-infusion appointment with you two months or more, down the line from your last infusion to measure the increase of red blood cells.
I am no medical professional. Saying this, these are simply what to expect/know before your first iron infusion to calm the nerves or to be more informed if you have to receive iron infusions.