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Iron Poisoning

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KEY POINTS

  • Iron poisoning is the buildup of high levels of iron in the body. It can cause serious symptoms or death.
  • Call your child’s healthcare provider, poison control center, or go directly to the emergency department if you suspect your child has iron poisoning, even if your child does not have symptoms. Take the pill bottle with you.
  • To help prevent iron poisoning, keep all medicines, including vitamins, locked up or out of reach of children.

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What is iron poisoning?

Iron poisoning is the buildup of high levels of iron in the body. Iron is an important mineral for red blood cells. Iron helps the cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. However, when too much iron builds up in the body, it can cause serious symptoms or death.

What is the cause?

Iron poisoning is usually a result of a child taking a large number of pills that contain iron. Many multivitamins and prenatal vitamins that you can buy without a prescription contain high amounts of iron. Pills or multivitamins can look like candy to children. A child may eat enough pills to get very sick.

What are the symptoms?

In the first 4 to 6 hours after iron poisoning, symptoms may include:

  • Severe vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Being less alert or very sleepy

If not treated within 24 hours, too much iron may cause:

  • Fast heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Symptoms of liver problems such as nausea, loss of appetite, swelling of the belly, vomiting blood, and yellowing of the skin or eyes

How is it diagnosed?

Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Tests may include:

  • Blood tests
  • X-rays of the abdomen (belly)

How is it treated?

Call your child’s healthcare provider, poison control center, or go directly to the emergency department if you suspect your child has iron poisoning, even if your child does not have symptoms. Take the pill bottle with you. Do NOT give your child activated charcoal or syrup of ipecac that causes vomiting.

Treatment will depend on the age of your child and how much iron has been taken. Treatment may include:

  • Whole Bowel Irrigation: The healthcare provider will insert a tube into your child's nose and gently push it down into your child's stomach. Medicines given through this tube will cause your child to have several watery bowel movements until only clear movements come out. This keeps the iron from being absorbed by your child's body.
  • Chelation: Your child may be given an IV medicine to remove iron from the body.

How can I help prevent iron poisoning?

  • Keep medicines including vitamins locked up or out of reach of children. Don't leave medicines on countertops or in a purse.
  • Teach children that pills are not candy and can be harmful.
  • If you think that your child may have swallowed pills that contain iron, call
    • The National Poison Center hotline
      800-222-1222
Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2017-10-02
Last reviewed: 2019-07-29
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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