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Quick Facts

Iron Poisoning

By The Manual's Editorial Staff,

What is iron poisoning?

Iron is a mineral your body needs, but too much can be harmful. You get iron poisoning by taking too many pills that contain iron, such as multivitamins. Iron poisoning happens most often in young children.

  • Iron poisoning is a leading cause of death by poisoning in children younger than 5

  • Keep iron pills and multivitamins out of children’s reach

  • Symptoms of serious poisoning usually appear within 6 hours, but call for help right away, even if symptoms haven't appeared yet

  • People with iron poisoning need to be cared for in the hospital

Call for emergency medical assistance (911 in most areas of the United States) right away if you think you or someone else may have iron poisoning.

What are the symptoms of iron poisoning?

The first symptoms usually happen within 6 hours:

  • Throwing up (can include throwing up blood)

  • Diarrhea (frequent, loose, or watery poop)

  • Being irritable

  • Sleepiness

If the poisoning is severe, early symptoms also include:

  • Fast breathing

  • Fast heart rate

  • Coma (when you're unconscious and can't be woken up)

  • Seizures (when your body moves or jerks out of control)

Sometimes, you may seem like you're getting better for awhile. Then, 12 to 48 hours after the overdose, you have:

  • Fever

  • Shock (a dangerously low drop in blood pressure)

  • Bleeding

  • Yellow eyes and skin (jaundice)

  • Confusion

  • Coma

Next, your liver fails and you may die of shock, bleeding, and blood-clotting problems.

If you survive, about 2 to 5 weeks after the overdose, your symptoms may return. You may feel:

  • Crampy belly pain

  • Sick to your stomach

These symptoms happen as your belly and intestines become blocked by scars.

How can doctors tell if I have iron poisoning?

Doctors can test the level of iron in your blood. In some cases, they may do an x-ray to look for swallowed pills.

How do doctors treat iron poisoning?

Doctors will likely have you stay in the hospital for treatment.

They'll give you:

  • A special solution to wash out any pills remaining in your stomach or intestines

  • A medicine that attaches to iron, so the iron leaves your body through your urine