Quick Resources

  Online Support Group & Forum
  Find Doctor / Treatment Center
  Helpful Forms & Charts
  Diet / Iron Content In Foods
  Join Physician Registry

Too Much or Too Little Iron

Too much or too little iron in the system can be fatal. Death is often due to heart or liver failure.

Risk Factors* for too much or too little iron
*A risk factor is any behavior, condition or environmental factor known to increase the possibility of a disease outcome.  

Risk factors for too much iron include but may not be limited to:

  • Taking excessive amounts of supplemental iron; or receiving iron shots or iron infusions
  • Having received (or are receiving) frequent blood transfusions
  • Consuming excessive amounts of red meat or foods that enhance iron absorption (supplemental vitamin C, alcohol, sugar)
  • Having risk factors for metabolic syndrome that heighten the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases
  • Using tobacco products on a regular basis or being exposed to tobacco smoke (lung)
  • Being exposed to iron-containing asbestos (lung)
  • Working or long-term computing in subways (lung)
  • Working in iron smelters or coal mines (lung)
  • Living in highly polluted areas—usually large metro-urban cities (lung)
  • Having an inherited iron loading condition such as hemochromatosis

Risk factors for too little iron include but may not be limited to:

  • Age and gender: women, children and the elderly are most at risk
  • Ethnicity: non-whites are at increased risk
  • Consuming foods or substances that impair iron absorption: fiber, tannin in coffee or tea, dairy products, eggs, or chocolate
  • Being a super blood donor (especially people with hemochromatosis who are overbled)
  • Having inherited conditions that impair absorption: celiac’s, crohn’s—colitis
  • An inadequate intake of iron (not enough meat or being strictly vegetarian)
  • Excessive aerobic exercise, marathon runner
  • Taking aspirin, antacids or calcium supplements
  • Being exposed to toxins (chemicals) such as lead,
  • Abusing drugs: pain meds, alcohol
  • Diseases  of the digestive tract; infection; diseases of the endocrine system or bone marrow
  • Surgery, gastro banding or short bowel syndrome
  • Having an eating disorder (bulimia)
  • Having an inherited anemia such as thalassemia or sickle cell disease

Complicated Iron (many of these are rare): when you have too much and too little at the same time

  • Anemia in these patients is due to having a particular disease of blood cell production or blood cell management such as thalassemia, sickle cell disease, sideroblastic anemia, enzyme deficiencies, bone marrow problems, iron-transport protein  problems.  Iron overload is often caused by a combination of the disease itself and the treatment, which is often blood transfusion or iron infusion.

When a person is receiving blood transfusions on a regular basis, iron can build up to toxic levels requiring iron chelation therapy. See our pamphlet on Transfusional Iron Overload.