Increased iron in the blood, causes and symptoms

Increased iron in the blood can be a serious condition and present for various reasons.

Iron is a mineral found primarily in red blood cells (or erythrocytes).

These cells carry oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.

Oxygen cannot bind directly to the proteins circulating in the blood, but binds to the iron atom in hemoglobin.

Transferrin and ferritin transport the iron, which does not bind to the hemoglobin.

The normal level of iron in the body is three or four grams.

The organism carefully monitors the total amount of iron in the body.

The body loses 1 mg of iron per day:

  1. In sweat,
  2. In the cells required for desquamation of the skin and mucous membrane of the intestine.

During menstruation, women lose an average of 1 mg of iron per day.

In normal adults, the intestine absorbs one milligram of iron from food daily to replace the lost iron.

Normally, there is no excess iron in the body.

However, in some cases, the body can absorb more or less iron from the food.

Toxicity or iron overload exists when the body absorbs about 30% iron from food.

Over time, a much higher amount of iron accumulates in the body than would be necessary.

Women accumulate iron more slowly than men because women lose more iron by:

  1. Menstruation
  2. Breastfeeding.

Therefore, they generally develop organ damage due to excess iron 10 years later than men.

This excess iron cannot be eliminated naturally and is manifested in tissues such as:

  • pancreas and other glands,
  • Liver


Normal iron levels (serum iron)

Quantity – mcg/dl man






Newborns and infants


Source: Wikipedia

The normal values for ferritin are:

Values – ng/ml
 18-270 Women 18-160 Children 7-140 Infants from 1 to 5 months 50-200

Recommended amount of iron in the diet

The amount of iron required depends on age, gender (male or female) and special dietary requirements (for example, during pregnancy and lactation).

  • Pregnant women between the ages of 14 and 50 need more iron (27 mg/day).
  • The required amount of iron for women between 19 and 50 years of age is 18 mg/day (due to blood loss during the menstrual cycle).
  • Breastfeeding women require less iron (about 10 mg/day).
  • Men over 19 years of age need 8 mg/day of iron.
  • Children and adolescents need the amount of iron that is in the normal diet, which is between 7 and 11 mg a day.

Causes of increased iron in the blood


This is a genetic disease in which the organism absorbs iron and stores it in excessive quantities in the body.

Hemochromatosis is caused by a defective gene (HFE).

The defective gene causes the body to absorb excess iron from food.

Hemochromatosis can cause:

  1. Myocardial infarction
  2. Cancer.

In addition, excess iron is stored in the liver, which over time can damage the liver.

High proportion in the diet

People taking iron integrators may be exaggerating.

  1. Infants need only 10 mg of iron, as do children between 1 and 10 years of age.
  2. Adolescents between 11 and 18 years of age and girls or women between 11 and 50 years of age can absorb up to 12 mg of iron per day.
  3. Men between 19 and 50 years of age and women over 51 years of age can take 10 mg a day.

An increased daily dose leads to increased iron levels in the blood.

The daily intake of multivitamin supplements with added iron and iron supplements should be avoided. In fact, this combination is one of the main causes of increased iron in the blood.

Food integrators often cause diarrhea. Therefore, it is recommended to change the diet for the treatment of iron deficiency anemia.


Excessive alcohol consumption over a long period of time can lead to liver damage.

According to a study by GEORGE N. IOANNOU et al. (Department of Medicine and Division of Gastroenterology, University of Washington Medical Center, Seattle), the amount of iron in the blood is significantly higher in people who drink more than two alcoholic beverages per day than in others.

Alcoholism can also lead to increased bilirubin in blood analysis.

Blood transfusions

Iron overload occurs when an excessive amount of this mineral enters the body.

This can be a problem for those who need frequent red blood cell transfusions.

Red blood cells contain iron.

With each new transfusion, iron is brought into the body.

The body is unable to break down excess iron that enters the body through transfusions.

Diseases with increased hemoglobin

Elevated hemoglobin may be the normal response to some situations, such as living at high altitudes where oxygen is reduced.

It can also be a reaction to diseases such as cardiomyopathy or lung disease.

In addition, it can be the result of bone marrow disease.

In polycythemia vera, the bone marrow produces too many red blood cells.

High iron and hemoglobin levels are the result of excessive production of red blood cells.

Causes of increased iron in the blood are:

  1. Hemolytic anemia;
  2. oral contraceptives;
  3. Menopause.

Symptoms of increased iron in the blood

  1. Myasthenia
  2. Fatigue
  3. Hair loss
  4. depression and irritability,
  5. arrhythmias and heart failure,
  6. Unexplained weight loss,
  7. loss of libido,
  8. impotence (caused by hypogonadism),
  9. Hepatomegaly
  10. yellowish skin colour,
  11. joint pain, especially in the ankles of the second and third fingers,
  12. Irregular or missing menstrual cycle,
  13. Osteoporosis
  14. Diabetes (because iron accumulates in the pancreas).

When should you worry about high iron levels?

A slightly elevated value is not a cause for concern, but the values should be checked more frequently, otherwise a serious illness could remain undetected.

Ferritin and iron

Ferritin is not the same as iron.

Ferritin is a protein synthesized by the organism that serves to store iron for future needs.

When necessary, the cells release the ferritin into the blood.

Ferritin binds to another substance, the so-called transferrin.

This is a protein that transports ferritin and acts as a taxi for the iron.

If the ferritin is saturated and can no longer store iron, it is stored in a complex called hemosiderin.

The value of ferritin indicates the amount of iron that has accumulated in the body.

Depending on the amount of ferritin in the blood (whether too little or too much), the doctor can recognize the situation.

Iron in the blood

Iron is found in the body:

  • 60% in hemoglobin – the protein that transports blood oxygen.
  • 30% in ferritin, a protein found throughout the body.
  • A small percentage in myoglobin, a protein used only in muscle cells.

Important: High ferritin is not synonymous with high iron content. Many people have elevated ferritin levels due to inflammation.

As a rule, an excess of ferritin occurs along with elevated iron levels in the blood, but an increased iron level can also occur with normal ferritin.

The doctor will order a blood test if the following symptoms occur with decreased ferritin:

  1. Unexplained fatigue,
  2. Myasthenia
  3. Irritability
  4. muscle and joint pain,
  5. Shortness of breath (with severe anaemia).

Very high iron levels can cause unpleasant symptoms.

Symptoms of increased iron include:

  1. Stomach ache
  2. Tachycardia
  3. chest pain,
  4. Unexplained weakness,
  5. Joint pain
  6. Unexplained fatigue.

Iron levels may be elevated due to organ damage, especially to the liver and spleen.

The test is usually done for health checks, mainly to understand if there are diseases that cause a deficiency or excess of iron.

Causes of increased ferritin

  1. Hemochromatosis
  2. Leukemia (leukemia, for example, causes an increase in ferritin, white blood cells, and a decrease in red blood cells)
  3. Tumor (Hodgkin’s disease),
  4. Infection
  5. liver disorders,
  6. Transfusions
  7. Alcoholism
  8. Rheumatoid arthritis.

Complications of increased iron

Risks that a person with elevated iron levels has include:

  1. development of cirrhosis of the liver,
  2. damage to the pancreas,
  3. arrhythmias and heart failure,
  4. Hypogonadism
  5. Arthritis
  6. Hypothyroidism.

What should you do? Therapy and natural remedies for increased iron

Therapy depends on the underlying disorder, which increases iron levels in the blood.

If the problem lies in the diet or integrators, the diet can simply be changed.

With hemochromatosis, a phlebotomy (bloodletting) must be performed if the value is too high.

Nutrition and diet with elevated iron

Iron is found in moderate amounts in various fruits and fruits.

The food with the highest iron content is meat.

Red meat contains a lot of heme iron, a type of iron that is easily dissolved in the body.

Therefore, some vegetables and red meat must be avoided to reduce the daily amount of iron.

The following table lists low-iron foods that can be eaten:

  1. apple, blueberry, grapefruit, melon, orange;
  2. kohlrabi, radishes, carrot, onion, peppers, pumpkin;
  3. Oil;
  4. White rice, pasta, spaghetti, couscous;
  5. Coffee, tea, fruit juice, water.

Foods high in iron to avoid:

  1. red meat, eggs, fried pork;
  2. Raw fish, crustaceans;
  3. All green leafy vegetables, legumes;
  4. whole grains, bread;
  5. Alcohol;
  6. All foods and products enriched with iron.

Ferrous vegetables

Green vegetables are known to be a rich source of iron. There are several vegetables that contain plenty of iron.

However, some vegetables contain substances that hinder the absorption of iron, such as:

  1. Phytic acid
  2. Tannic acid
  3. Roughage
  4. polyphenols,
  5. Some minerals (calcium and phosphorus).

Other substances increase iron absorption, for example:

  1. Vitamin C,
  2. Folic acid
  3. Citric acid.