Iron Deficiency Anemia Medication

Updated: Feb 23, 2018
  • Author: James L Harper, MD; Chief Editor: Emmanuel C Besa, MD  more...
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Medication Summary

The most economical and effective medical treatment for iron deficiency anemia is the oral administration of ferrous iron salts. Among the various iron salts, ferrous sulfate most commonly is used. Claims are made that other iron salts are absorbed better and have less morbidity. Generally, the toxicity is proportional to the amount of iron available for absorption. If the quantity of iron in the test dose is decreased, the percentage of the test dose absorbed is increased, but the quantity of iron absorbed is diminished.

Ferric citrate is an oral iron that has shown efficacy and gained FDA approval for treatment of iron deficiency anemia in adults with CKD and not on dialysis. [33]

There are advocates for the use of carbonyl iron because of the greater safety with children who ingest their mothers’ medication. Decreased gastric toxicity is claimed but not clearly demonstrated in human trials. Bioavailability is approximately 70% of a similar dose of ferrous sulfate.

Reserve parenteral iron for patients who are either unable to absorb oral iron or who have increasing anemia despite adequate doses of oral iron. It is expensive and has greater morbidity than oral preparations of iron.


Iron Products

Class Summary

These agents are used to provide adequate iron for hemoglobin synthesis and to replenish body stores of iron. Iron is administered prophylactically during pregnancy because of anticipated requirements of the fetus and losses that occur during delivery.

Ferrous sulfate (Feratab, Fer-Iron, Slow-FE)

Ferrous sulfate is the mainstay treatment for treating patients with iron deficiency anemia. They should be continued for about 2 months after correction of the anemia and its etiologic cause in order to replenish body stores of iron. Ferrous sulfate is the most common and cheapest form of iron utilized. Tablets contain 50-60 mg of iron salt. Other ferrous salts are used and may cause less intestinal discomfort because they contain a smaller dose of iron (25-50 mg). Oral solutions of ferrous iron salts are available for use in pediatric populations.

Carbonyl iron (Feosol, Icar)

Carbonyl iron is used as a substitute for ferrous sulfate. It has a slower release of iron and is more expensive than ferrous sulfate. The slower release affords the agent greater safety if ingested by children. On a milligram-for-milligram basis, it is 70% as efficacious as ferrous sulfate. Claims are made that there is less gastrointestinal (GI) toxicity, prompting use when ferrous salts are producing intestinal symptoms and in patients with peptic ulcers and gastritis. Tablets are available containing 45 mg and 60 mg of iron.

Ferric citrate

Ferric iron is reduced from the ferric to the ferrous form by ferric reductase in the GI tract. After transport through the enterocytes into the blood, oxidized ferric iron circulates bound to the plasma protein transferrin, and can be incorporated into hemoglobin. Ferric citrate 1 g is equivalent to ferric iron 210 mg. It is indicated in adults with iron deficiency anemia who have CKD and are not on dialysis.

Iron dextran Complex (INFeD)

Dextran-iron replenishes depleted iron stores in the bone marrow, where it is incorporated into hemoglobin. Parenteral use of iron-carbohydrate complexes has caused anaphylactic reactions, and its use should be restricted to patients with an established diagnosis of iron deficiency anemia whose anemia is not corrected with oral therapy.

The required dose can be calculated (3.5 mg iron/g of hemoglobin) or obtained from tables in the Physician's Desk Reference. For intravenous (IV) use, this agent may be diluted in 0.9% sterile saline. Do not add to solutions containing medications or parenteral nutrition solutions.

Iron sucrose (Venofer)

Iron sucrose is used to treat iron deficiency (in conjunction with erythropoietin) in adults with chronic kidney disease (either with or without hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis). Iron deficiency in these patients is caused by blood loss during the dialysis procedure, increased erythropoiesis, and insufficient absorption of iron from the GI tract. There is a lower incidence of anaphylaxis with iron sucrose than with other parenteral iron products.

Ferric carboxymaltose (Injectafer)

Ferric carboxymaltose is a nondextran IV colloidal iron hydroxide in complex with carboxymaltose, a carbohydrate polymer that releases iron. It is indicated for iron deficiency anemia (IDA) in adults who have intolerance or an unsatisfactory response to oral iron. It is also indicated for IDA in adults with nondialysis-dependent chronic kidney disease.

Ferrous gluconate (Fergon)

Ferrous gluconate replaces iron found in hemoglobin, myoglobin, and enzymes; allows the transportation of oxygen via hemoglobin. It is indicated in the prevention and treatment of iron-deficiency anemias. 

Ferrous fumarate (Feostat, Ferro-Sequels, Nephro Fer)

Ferrous fumarate is a replacement of iron stores found in hemoglobin, myoglobin, and enzymes; works to transport oxygen via hemoglobin. . It is indicated in the prevention and treatment of iron-deficiency anemias.

Ferumoxytol (Feraheme)

Ferumoxytol is iron-carbohydrate complex released within macrophage vesicles; either enters intracellular iron storage (eg, ferritin) or transferred to plasma transferrin for transport to erythroid precursor cells for hemoglobin incorporation. It is indicated for iron deficiency anemia (IDA) in adults who have intolerance to oral iron or have had unsatisfactory response to oral iron. Also, ferumoxytol is indicated for IDA in adults who have chronic kidney disease (CKD).