Iron Supplements for Thalassemia Minor

Thalassemia minor is an inherited disorder characterized by a low concentration of hemoglobin and fewer red blood cells than normal. Most people with thalassemia minor have normal or even elevated iron stores, especially if they have received blood transfusions in the past. However, if your iron stores are low, your doctor may tell you to take ferrous iron supplements, of which there are three types, for a short time. Take the type and the dose your doctor recommends for you and always attend all follow-up appointments.

Iron supplement pills in a large iron capsule. (Image: Bet_Noire/iStock/Getty Images)

Ferrous Sulfate

Ferrous sulfate comes in a 325mg tablet that contains 65mg of iron. Your doctor may tell you to take it once, twice or three times a day. Always take it with a full glass of water or juice and do not lie down for at least 10 minutes afterward. Food interferes with the absorption of ferrous sulfate, so you should take it at least one hour before or two hours after a meal. Antacids, acid-controller medications, calcium or zinc supplements, tea, coffee and dairy products also interfere with the absorption of ferrous sulfate. Take these at least two hours before or after ferrous sulfate.

Ferrous Gluconate

Ferrous gluconate comes in a 325mg tablet that contains 35mg of iron. Follow the same precautions that apply to ferrous sulfate. All iron supplements can cause side effects such as upset stomach, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and constipation. However, ferrous gluconate and a third type of iron supplement, ferrous fumarate, may cause less severe or less frequent side effects than ferrous sulfate. If you have a history of gastrointestinal problems in addition to thalassemia minor, consider asking your doctor whether one of these types of iron supplements is a better for you to take. However, they may be slightly more expensive than ferrous sulfate.

Ferrous Fumarate

Ferrous fumarate comes in a 325mg tablet that contains 108mg of iron. If you have trouble swallowing the tablet, ask about chewable or liquid forms. Your doctor may tell you to mix liquid with other fluids and drink them through a straw to avoid staining your teeth. You should follow with additional fluids to rinse your teeth. If side effects trouble you, ask about coated or extended-release tablets and capsules. They cause fewer side effects, but they are not absorbed as well. Therefore, you may have to take them for a longer period of time. However, National Institutes of Health hematologist William Ershler says that some patients will not be able to tolerate an oral iron supplement no matter how hard they try. If you are a thalassemia minor patient who can't tolerate oral iron supplements despite your best efforts, let your doctor know right away.

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