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Iron Poisoning

Iron Poisoning Overview

Iron poisoning occurs when a person, usually a child, swallows a large number of iron-containing pills, most often vitamins.

Acute iron poisoning mainly involves children younger than 6 years who swallow pediatric or adult vitamins containing iron. These children may not be able or willing to tell you what and how much they swallowed.

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Iron salt is available in multiple preparations. For instance, ferrous sulfate is available as drops, syrup, elixir, capsules, and tablets.

Iron preparations are widely used and are available without a prescription and may be housed in bottles with or without child resistant closures.

  • The amount of iron that will cause poisoning depends upon the size of the child. An 8-year-old may show no symptoms from an amount that would cause serious symptoms in a 3-year-old. Symptoms appear at doses greater than 10 mg/kg (based on the body weight of the child).
  • Iron is available in different oral forms.
  • A child may show no symptoms after eating a number of pills that might have looked like candy. The only evidence may be an opened vitamin bottle. If you know, or even suspect, that a child has eaten tablets, you should consult a hospital’s emergency department or a poison control center regarding a possible iron poisoning.

Iron Poisoning Causes

  • Iron pills, especially children’s multivitamin tablets, can look like candy to children.
  • Intentional overdose can occur among adults, but is rare.

Iron Poisoning Symptoms

Symptoms of iron poisoning usually become evident within 6 hours after an excessive amount of iron is swallowed. Iron corrodes your intestinal lining and is a direct irritant to the stomach. People with iron poisoning can have the following symptoms:

Often, after supportive care, the gastrointestinal symptoms appear to improve within 6 to 24 hours after their onset. If profound poisoning is inadequately treated, shock and death can occur.

The amount of iron ingested may give a clue to potential toxicity. The therapeutic dose for iron deficiency anemia is 3-6 mg/kg/day. Toxic effects begin to occur at doses above 10-20 mg/kg of elemental iron. Ingestions of more than 50 mg/kg of elemental iron are associated with severe toxicity.

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