Getting enough iron
You can help increase your iron stores by eating iron-rich foods. The best sources of iron are from red meat, chicken, pork and fish. You can also get iron from plants, like green leafy vegetables, nuts and wholegrain cereals. Eat these foods together with foods rich in Vitamin C to help your body absorb the iron better (e.g. citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes and broccoli). Please tell your doctor if you are a vegan or vegetarian.
Your doctor may suggest you have an iron transfusion if your iron levels (e.g. ferritin) are very low, or your surgery is planned very soon.
An iron infusion involves an injection of iron into your vein. This appointment may take about 1-4 hours – depending on the type that your doctor prescribes for you.
Afterward you should be able to return to normal activities, however look out for common side-effects like nausea, headaches, dizziness, and skin reactions or staining, and less commonly allergic reaction.
My Iron Plan
The National Blood Authority has a My Iron Plan is a printout form that you can fill out with your care team. This is your personal iron record that can be regularly updated to assist with your care.
What can happen if I don't have enough iron in my blood?
Anaemia is having a low number of red blood cells (haemoglobin). It can be caused by many things. Red cells are important for carrying oxygen around your body, and are particularly important to help your recover after an operation. If your red blood cells are low you may feel tired, dizzy, short of breath, have an irregular heartbeat, and perhaps even chest pain.
If your red cells are low or abnormal – your health care team may run additional blood tests (e.g. iron, B12, folate). They may arrange investigations. They may offer you treatment.
Bleeding may happen
- If your blood is not working properly
- If you are taking certain medications
- If you have medical problems
- Because of the nature of your surgery.
We can minimise the amount of blood you lose by preparing your blood in the weeks leading up to your surgery, and by managing it during your operation.
Please tell your doctor if you:
- Have any current or past medical problems (e.g. chronic kidney disease, cancer)
- Are currently on, or have recently taken blood-thinning medications, including over the counter supplements and complementary therapies.
Depending on the type of surgery that you are having, there may be additional options available to you during or after your surgery that can reduce the amount of blood lost, or requirements of a blood transfusion (e.g. medication, reinfusion of your own blood lost during surgery)
Some surgery also has a higher risk of bleeding. Talk to your local doctor is you are having:
- Aortic aneurysm repair
- Spine surgery
- Kidney surgery
- Both knee joints replaced
- Prostate surgery
- Abdominal surgery
- A long operation, taking more than 45 minutes.
Despite our best efforts, it is possible that you may still need a blood transfusion. Please tell your doctor if for personal or religious reasons you refuse to have a blood transfusion.
There are a few different types of blood products. Your doctor will prescribe the particular type of blood that your body needs to work better.
A blood transfusion involves:
- Your doctor will explain the reason, benefit and risks of the transfusion to you
- You will be asked to sign a consent form
- You will have a blood test to see what your blood type is. This makes sure the right blood type is available to give to you
- An injection of blood into one of your veins through a cannula or “drip”. This may take a few hours to complete.
If you need a transfusion, you should receive only what is needed to relieve your symptoms. Your health care team will check you after each bag of blood to see if you are feeling better. The Australian Red Cross Blood service ensures that the blood they supply for transfusion is as safe as it can possibly be. Blood transfusion is an organ transplant that still comes with risks:
- Mild reactions – a temperature or skin rash
- Having too much fluid in your body, which may give you breathing difficulties
Less common risks:
- Getting blood that is not ‘matched’ to you
- Severe reactions – allergy or lung injury
- Serious infection.
It is important for you to tell us if you:
- Notice any details that are wrong when we check your name and date of birth
- Feel unwell at any time during or after your transfusion.