Alarming spike in intravenous iron intake

Darren Cartwright

A university study shows an alarming spike in women using intravenous iron therapy that's costing taxpayers $26 million a year with little evidence it's more effective than tablets.

The University of Sydney paper, published on Tuesday in the Medical Journal of Australia, revealed IV iron therapy spiked five-fold among women of child-bearing age, from 17,920 in 2013 to 97,040 in 2017.

During the same period, the cost to taxpayers for the treatment under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme increased from $750,000 to $26 million annually.

Dr Antonia Shand, who led the study, said the reasons for the increase were unclear and questioned if it was the appropriate treatment for many women.

"The rapid growth raises concerns about whether it is being employed appropriately and cost-effectively, given the potential harms and the lack of strong evidence for its value for improving quality of life and reproductive health outcomes," Dr Shand said.

As well, she said there was evidence related to some hospital audits that people had been given intravenous iron but did not have anaemia.

"They have iron deficiency and generally IV iron is not recommended in those circumstances," Dr Shand told AAP.

Further studies were needed to determine if, and why, patients had switched from oral intake of iron to IV.

Studies were also needed to discover if there has been an explosion in the number of people suffering from iron deficiency and if IV was vastly more effective than tablets.

"We don't know whether the number of orals are the same or not because you can buy oral over the counter," Dr Shand said.

"Or whether there are a lot more people being treated and the number of people taking oral is the same."

Women are more likely to require iron supplements because of periods and pregnancies and men tend to eat more red meat, Dr Shand said.

The symptoms of iron deficiency include fatigue, depression, dizziness, shortness of breath and leave people prone to infection, and can develop into anaemia, she said.