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Iron Poisoning

When to Seek Medical Care

Call your doctor, local poison control center, or go directly to the closest hospital’s emergency department if you suspect your child has swallowed iron-containing vitamins, even if your child shows no symptoms. Bring the container with you.

If you find your child among iron pills or pill containers, or your child tells you he or she swallowed pills, take the child to a hospital's emergency department.

Exams and Tests

If you can, tell the doctor the type of iron supplement and the number of tablets your child swallowed.

The diagnoses of iron poisoning is usually made by observing your child. A normal physical exam and no symptoms for 6 hours tells the doctor that the child has experienced either little poisoning or did not eat any iron-containing substances.

The doctor may draw blood from your child to determine these levels:

  • Iron
  • White blood cell count
  • Serum glucose (blood sugar)

The doctor may also ask for an x-ray of your child’s abdomen to confirm whether there are iron pills in the gastrointestinal tract, although sometimes the pills can be there and not seen. Laboratory and imaging tests are not usually sensitive enough to detect poisoning. Some tests are also too slow to affect the diagnosis and management of iron poisoning.

Iron Poisoning Treatment

If your child is diagnosed with iron poisnoing, The doctor will first make sure your child is breathing normally. Then your child will likely have his or her bowel cleaned by drinking a strong laxative.

Severe poisonings will require IV (intravenous) chelation therapy. The patient receives a series of IVs containing deferoxamine mesylate (Desferal), a chemical that binds to iron in a cell and is then excreted in urine. Deferoxamine can be administered by IV or shot, but the IV route is preferred for easier dose adjustment. A change in urine color to a red-orange and low blood pressure are common side effects with deferoxamine treatment. Usually children require no more than 24 hours of therapy.

Orogastric lavage, or pumping of the stomach, may be considered. But generally, it is only helpful if performed within 1 hour of swallowing the pills. Insertion of the tube can cause complications, and many pills may not fit through the ports of a lavage tube if they are not disintegrated.

If the doctor suspects your child has swallowed other medications too, he or she may give your child activated charcoal to drink. Activated charcoal does not bind to iron, but it may be useful in adsorbing other medications.

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