To treat iron deficiency anemia, your doctor may recommend that you take iron supplements. Your doctor will also treat the underlying cause of your iron deficiency, if necessary.
Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter iron tablets to replenish the iron stores in your body. Your doctor will let you know the correct dose for you. Iron is also available in liquid form for infants and children. To improve the chances that your body will absorb the iron in the tablets, you may be instructed to:
- Take iron tablets on an empty stomach. If possible, take your iron tablets when your stomach is empty. However, because iron tablets can upset your stomach, you may need to take your iron tablets with meals.
- Don't take iron with antacids. Medications that immediately relieve heartburn symptoms can interfere with the absorption of iron. Take iron two hours before or four hours after you take antacids.
- Take iron tablets with vitamin C. Vitamin C improves the absorption of iron. Your doctor might recommend taking your iron tablets with a glass of orange juice or with a vitamin C supplement.
Iron supplements can cause constipation, so your doctor may also recommend a stool softener. Iron may turn your stools black, which is a harmless side effect.
Iron deficiency can't be corrected overnight. You may need to take iron supplements for several months or longer to replenish your iron reserves. Generally, you'll start to feel better after a week or so of treatment. Ask your doctor when to have your blood rechecked to measure your iron levels. To be sure that your iron reserves are replenished, you may need to take iron supplements for a year or more.
Treating underlying causes of iron deficiency
If iron supplements don't increase your blood-iron levels, it's likely the anemia is due to a source of bleeding or an iron-absorption problem that your doctor will need to investigate and treat. Depending on the cause, iron deficiency anemia treatment may involve:
- Medications, such as oral contraceptives to lighten heavy menstrual flow
- Antibiotics and other medications to treat peptic ulcers
- Surgery to remove a bleeding polyp, a tumor or a fibroid
If iron deficiency anemia is severe, you may need iron given intravenously or you may need blood transfusions to help replace iron and hemoglobin quickly.