Only take iron supplements if they have been
recommended to you in order to treat anaemia. (Anaemia is a condition where a
lack of iron in the body leads to a reduction in the number of red blood cells).
How do the supplements work?
Iron is needed for the production of
haemoglobin, which is an essential ingredient in red blood cells. Haemoglobin
is very important as it carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.
If you don’t have enough iron, you can develop
anaemia, which means that you aren’t making enough red blood cells to carry
oxygen around your body. You may become breathless, tired and have a lack of
energy, your skin may become pale and you may have palpitations (noticeable heartbeats).
Which types of iron supplements are available?
The main types of iron supplements used are:
• Ferrous sulphate (high strength tablets)
• Ferrous fumarate (high strength tablets or
• Ferrous gluconate (medium strength tablets)
• liquid iron supplements (low strength) for
women who experience constipation in relation to higher strength versions
How do I take them?
You should take your iron supplements on an
empty stomach (preferably one hour before a meal) with a drink containing
vitamin C, such as a glass of orange juice or another juice drink with added
vitamin C. New evidence has shown that taking iron supplements every other day
can increase their effectiveness. The precise instructions for when to take
your supplements will be discussed with you by the healthcare professional who
Why is the way I take them important?
Absorption of iron from the gut is reduced by
food, tea and milk, so these should be avoided for one hour before and after
taking the iron supplement.
Some medications also affect absorption of iron
from the gut, particularly medications which reduce stomach acid (antacids) and
certain antibiotics. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist whether any of
your other medicines might affect how your iron supplement works.
The only factor that improves the absorption of
iron is vitamin C. This is why we recommend that you take your iron supplement
with a drink containing vitamin C.
What side effects might I get?
The following side effects are common:
• stomach upset
• nausea (feeling sick)
• stomach ache
These usually improve as your body gets used to
the iron supplements. If the side effects continue to be a problem for you,
contact the healthcare professional who prescribed the iron supplements. They
may suggest reducing the strength of your supplements or the frequency that you
are taking them.
What happens now?
You will be asked to have a repeat blood test
three to six weeks after you start taking your iron supplement, to check for a
response to the treatment.
Click here for a useful link with more information.