Iron disorders and iron therapy

Iron is essential for the body to make haemoglobin (Hb), a pigment that makes red blood cells red and carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body

Low iron levels (iron deficiency) in the body can cause low haemoglobin levels. Conversely, too much iron in the body can lead to iron overload (haemochromatosis) and cause damage in adults. 

Iron deficiency is a much more common problem than iron overload. 

To find out more about iron deficiency and iron overload, please click on the links below:

Iron deficiency 

Iron overload

Iron deficiency

If your iron levels are currently low, or you are at risk of having low levels in the future, your doctor may advise you to increase your iron intake through food or prescribe iron therapy. 

Causes of iron deficiency include:

  • Blood loss, for example from heavy periods or gastrointestinal conditions or disease (eg an ulcer, a colon polyp or even bowel cancer)
  • Not enough iron in the diet
  • Poor absorption of iron in the diet, for example in untreated coeliac disease or after obesity surgery
  • Increased demand for iron, for example in pregnancy or during rapid growth in children.

Often there is more than one cause.

More information about iron deficiency, its causes and symptoms can be found in the Gastroenterology Society of Australia’s Health Information Fact Sheet – Iron Deficiency.

For more information about increasing your iron intake through food, please refer to the Nutrition Australia website.

Treatment options

Depending on your situation, your doctor may recommend the following treatment options:

Iron tablets/liquids

Your doctor may recommend that you take iron tablets/liquids as they are are a safe, effective and easy way to increase your iron levels.

Ask your doctor how long you need to take them for and re-check your levels once the cause of your low iron levels has been sorted out. 

Read the guide to taking iron tablets (PDF 121KB) to help explain:

  • why iron tablets are important
  • how they work
  • effective way to take iron tablets
  • how to reduce any side effects. 

This guide is also available in 18 different languages. Please read the consumer fact sheets section to find the guide in your language. 

Iron infusions

Your doctor may recommend that you have an “Intravenous” or “IV” iron infusion. This means giving iron (a brown liquid) directly into the blood stream of the body through a vein. A needle placed into a vein (usually in the back of the hand or arm) and attached to a drip. This brown fluid is slowly “dripped” (infused) into the vein and mixes with the blood in your body.

Read the Intravenous (IV) iron infusions fact sheet (PDF 108KB) to answer some common questions about IV iron infusions, including how the therapy is given, why you might need IV iron and its risks and benefits.

This guide is also available in 18 different languages. Please read the fact sheets section to find the guide in your language. 

Further information

More information about iron deficiency, its causes and symptoms can be found on the Gastroenterology Society of Australia's website.

Iron overload

Iron overload (haemochromatosis) is an inherited condition in which the affected person is at risk of absorbing too much iron from their food. The excess iron in your body builds up in various parts and causes damage in adults.


Early iron overload might have no symptoms, even though organ damage is occurring.

Organs that may be damaged by overload include the:

  • liver
  • heart
  • pancreas
  • joints
  • sex organs.

Testing for iron overload

The genetic condition of haemochromatosis and its effects on your body can be detected by a blood test. 

Talk to your general practitioner to arrange for the necessary tests.

Treating iron overload

Treatment involves the removal of blood by venesection (similar to donating blood).Up to 500ml of blood is removed at regular intervals until the iron levels in the blood return to within the normal range.Once normal levels are re-established, venesections are used less frequently to maintain those levels throughout the patient’s lifetime.

Talk to your doctor about where it is most appropriate for you to have your venesections done.

Further information

Further information on iron overload can be found on the Haemochromatosis Australia website.

Consumer fact sheets

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