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High iron in pregnancy: what are the symptoms and what does it involve?

Controlling normal levels of iron in the blood during pregnancy is important for the well-being of both the mother and the baby. Blood tests help to detect an iron deficiency or overload. Iron deficiency in pregnancy is more frequent than overload, but it is also more easily manageable than high iron in pregnancy, which is a condition that must be treated promptly.

What are the iron values to pay attention to during pregnancy?

Iron is an essential nutrient for our body: it plays a role in numerous metabolic processes and promotes the formation of haemoglobin, myoglobin and certain enzymes (cytochromes). It also contributes to the normal cognitive development of the child and the normal functioning of the immune system

Iron values in the body are measured through blood tests. There are three parameters that are measured: sideremia (quantity of circulating iron related to transferrin), transferrinemia and ferritinaemia. Reference intervals may vary depending on gender, age and specific physiological conditions, such as menstrual cycle and pregnancy. 

In women, the reference values are as follows: 

Sideremia: 50 – 160 mcg/dL (micrograms per decilitre)

Transferrin: 250 – 380 mg/dL (milligrams per decilitre)

Ferritin (sometimes referred to simply as “Iron”): 11 – 300 mcg/L (micrograms per litre)

During pregnancy, the daily iron requirement is higher and therefore it is more frequent to find cases in which iron is low rather than cases in which iron is high. When iron is low, we are dealing with a deficiency and the doctor will assess the most suitable therapy to restore normal iron values. It is common for a doctor to prescribe iron supplements during pregnancy to support the diet. However, in some cases, iron and sideremia may increase and exceed the maximum values provided for in normal health conditions. If high iron during pregnancy occurs, it is important to consult a doctor. 

High iron during pregnancy: causes

The causes of high iron during pregnancy are usually not related to gestation, but are usually due to hereditary diseases, or to certain types of anaemia characterised by a reduced production of red blood cells.

In other cases, high iron can be related to an inflammatory state or metabolic disorders that are usually related to conditions that are unrelated to the pregnancy itself. 

In general, it is difficult for diet or supplements to cause an increase in blood iron concentration. Our body, in normal health conditions, has mechanisms that regulate the intestinal absorption of iron. These mechanisms promote iron absorption in cases of deficiency or prevent its assimilation when ferritin and transferrin (iron storage and transport molecules) are saturated.

High iron during pregnancy: what should you do?

A surplus of iron in the body can cause damage to cells and organs of a different severity, depending on the amount of excess iron. High sideremia during pregnancy should be kept under control and, in the most serious cases, it is important to consult a haematologist (a physician specialising in blood diseases) to assess a therapy able to bring the iron values in the blood back to normal. In cases of high iron during pregnancy, your doctor may advise you to moderate the intake of iron-rich foods or foods that facilitate their absorption (such as foods rich in vitamin C). 

High iron during pregnancy: consequences

The most common symptoms of high iron are asthenia, liver enlargement and nervous system disorders. Amongst the risks related to high iron during pregnancy there is also an increased possibility of developing gestational diabetes. It is always recommended to consult a doctor or haematologist in cases of high iron during pregnancy.

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