The quantity of iron in body is carefully regulated, primarily by control of iron absorption, and excess total body iron can be extremely toxic. Since humans have no mechanism for elimination of excess iron, multiple transfusions of red blood cells, which are required for the management of a number of disorders, inevitably result in iron overload. Cumulative iron overload, in turn, leads to iron toxicity with organ dysfunction and damage. This review examines the relationship between iron metabolism and hematologic disorders treated with multiple transfusions, with emphasis on the diagnosis and current methods of management of iron overload and toxicity in transfusion-dependent patients. Primarily using key words, we identified and reviewed more than 100 pertinent articles in English and other languages in the Medline database plus an additional number of abstracts of presentations at recent meetings of relevant scientific associations. Transfusion-dependent disorders include those characterized by decreased red blood cell production, increased red blood cell destruction, or chronic blood loss. Patients receiving chronic transfusion therapy should be screened and monitored for iron overload, yet in our opinion, this is not always done routinely. Once iron overload has been identified, it should be treated to reduce the risk of morbidity and mortality from iron toxicity, which particularly affects the liver and heart. Increased awareness of the risks of iron overload from chronic transfusion therapy should result in greater use of interventions such as iron chelation to reduce total body iron and the risk of long-term sequelae.

Shander, Cappellini, Goodnough, , , , , , (2009). Iron overload and toxicity: the hidden risk of multiple blood transfusions. Vox sanguinis, 2009 Oct;97(3):185-97. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19663936