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The body needs iron in order to efficiently transport oxygen throughout the blood stream, but too much iron can result in an iron overdose. Signs that there is too much iron in the body are wide and varied, from symptoms of the gastrointestinal and cardiac systems to a blue hue to the skin. Depending on the individual and the amount of iron ingested, symptoms can be mild or severe.
Iron is available through over-the-counter supplements, making it an easily accessible nutrient. While it might not seem as though such a readily available substance can disrupt the body, an iron overdose can result in a number of symptoms. Depending on the individual and the amount taken, the overdose can the cardiac, gastrointestinal, nervous and respiratory systems, as well as have a visible impact on the skin.
The first symptoms to develop are usually those in the gastrointestinal system, which commonly manifest within about six hours of consuming the iron. These include abdominal pain and other kinds of distress, such as vomiting and diarrhea, with the possibility of blood in the body's discharge and a metallic taste to the vomit. As these are common illness symptoms, it may be difficult initially to diagnose an iron overdose. In large quantities, iron is a poison, and these signs are the first of a slow poisoning of the body.
Depending on the dosage that was consumed, other symptoms can also manifest within hours of the iron overdose. Fatigue and cardiac issues, such as irregular heartbeat, can occur, and in some cases, there can also be a marked drop in blood pressure. High amounts of iron will begin to target the liver, which results in jaundice and liver failure between 12 hours and two days of overdosing. During this time, an individual may also be vulnerable to seizures. The skin will often become pale, while the fingernails and lips may take on a blue hue.
After two days, the iron has begun to poison other cells. It is during this time that death can occur, and it is vitally important to receive medical attention well before this time. Without the administration of treatment to rid the body of the high amounts of iron, an individual may go into severe shock and suffer from advanced liver failure as well as mental distress, such as confusion; convulsions and dizziness also are possible symptoms.
Lethality depends on the dosage of iron that was consumed and how quickly treatment is received. It is one of the most dangerous poisons to children due to their low body weights. Even after hospitalization and treatment, an iron overdose can leave lasting scars on the gastrointestinal system in particular. A person's overall health and the existence of other conditions can impact the overall prognosis.