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Iron Toxicity

By

Larry E. Johnson

, MD, PhD, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Last full review/revision Dec 2021| Content last modified Dec 2021
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Iron (Fe) is a component of hemoglobin, myoglobin, and many enzymes in the body. Heme iron is contained mainly in animal products. It is absorbed much better than nonheme iron (eg, in plants and grains). Non heme iron accounts for > 85% of iron in the average diet. However, absorption of nonheme iron is increased when it is consumed with animal protein and vitamin C.

Iron may accumulate in the body because of

  • Iron therapy given in excessive amounts or for too long

  • Repeated blood transfusions

  • Alcohol-related liver disease

  • Overdose of iron

Diagnosis of iron toxicity is based on clinical evaluation and sometimes (eg, in chronic toxicity) requires confirmation with serum iron and ferritin concentration.

Treatment of iron toxicity often involves deferoxamine, which binds with iron and is excreted in urine.

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