Iron chelator therapy is an important treatment option for patients with iron overload conditions such as thalassemia, hemochromatosis and sickle cell disease. However, as with any medication, iron chelators can cause side effects and must be administered carefully. Here we review some of the potential side effects and the recommended safety measures for this therapy.
Common Side Effects
The most frequently reported side effects of iron chelators are gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal discomfort. Other possible side effects include mild headache, rash and itching. The oral chelator deferasirox has also been associated with renal and liver impairment in some patients. Monitoring kidney and liver function is recommended during treatment.
If too much iron is removed by chelators, patients can develop symptoms of anemia and iron deficiency. Regular blood counts and iron levels can detect this so dosing can be adjusted. Zinc and other beneficial metals can also be depleted, so levels may need periodic monitoring. Some chelators carry warnings about organ toxicity risks if dosing recommendations are exceeded.
Importance of Ongoing Monitoring
To minimize risks during iron chelator therapy, patients require regular follow-up and lab testing. Blood cell counts, iron levels, liver enzymes and kidney function should be checked 1-2 times per month initially, then periodically thereafter. Dose adjustments may be required based on test results. Reported side effects also need prompt attention.
Certain lifestyle factors can help reduce side effects of chelators. Drinking lots of fluids, exercising, eating small frequent meals, and avoiding excess vitamin C, calcium and iron supplements can help. Taking the medication as prescribed and not missing doses is also important to avoid rapid iron reloading.
While current iron chelators are relatively safe when properly monitored, researchers are seeking to develop new agents with improved side effect and toxicity profiles. Patient education and engagement in monitoring will remain key. With prudent use and care, iron chelator therapy can successfully achieve its aims of reducing iron burden for patients with chronic overload.