Iron Rich Foods

Why Is Tracking Iron So Important for Heart Failure Patients?

JANUARY 11, 2023


When was the last time you thought about pumping iron? No, we’re not talking dumbbells and spandex. If you’ve been diagnosed with heart failure, you might need to start thinking about the iron pumping through your body.

Iron is a naturally occurring mineral found in certain foods and the human body. Among its many jobs, iron plays a role in oxygen production and transportation. Processes like muscle metabolism, neurological development and some hormone synthesis depend on iron.

While iron deficiency is common in heart failure patients (about 50% of individuals with heart failure also have an iron deficiency), there is evidence that a lack of iron in the blood can lead to poorer health outcomes in heart failure patients. Your iron levels affect your organ functions, bone health and metabolism.

Keep reading to learn more about iron deficiency, why it’s dangerous for heart failure patients and how to track and supplement to keep your iron levels up.

What Is Iron Deficiency?

According to the American Journal of Hematology, “Iron deficiency is a health-related condition in which iron availability is insufficient to meet the body’s needs and which can be present with or without anemia.”

You may hear iron deficiency referred to as absolute or functional.

  • Absolute iron deficiency is when the body doesn’t get enough iron either due to lack of iron in the diet or iron loss through gastrointestinal bleeding. Sometimes, it’s both.
  • Functional iron deficiency refers to the body’s inability to absorb adequate amounts of iron. This affects the body’s ability to produce red blood cells.

Both types of iron deficiency lead to the same outcome: The body doesn’t have enough iron.

Iron Deficiency and Heart Failure

Insufficient iron supplies directly impact systems like oxygen production and transfer. While these aren’t systems you may think about regularly, their functions can directly affect how you feel and live. Here are some real-life implications iron deficiency can have on life and management of heart failure:

Heart Health and Function
The heart and muscles use a lot of iron-supplied energy. Iron deficiency in conjunction with heart failure can be harder on the heart than either condition alone. In 2018, the Belgian Society of Cardiology concluded, “Progression of iron deficiency parallels an increased risk for worsening of heart failure.” Other studies have shown that:

Exercise and Fatigue
Iron deficiency is also linked to decreased exercise tolerance, mainly due to fatigue, which is compounded in heart failure patients.

Read more: Download our infographic Exercise Routines for Heart Failure Patients.

Why You Should Track Your Iron Intake (Among Other Things)

Depending on the type of heart failure and iron deficiency, adding iron supplements or increasing your intake of iron-rich foods may not be enough to fix an iron deficiency. However, tracking your iron intake alongside other metrics can offer insight to you and your provider about whether supplementation is working.

Of course, tracking iron levels is just one part of good heart failure management. Making sure you’re getting the right food, and enough water and exercise are also important habits to build and maintain. Keeping tabs on your caloric intake, heart rate, and sodium is also essential.

Set yourself up for tracking success with a method that works best for you.

Consult an Expert
Ask to see a dietician at your hospital or clinic. A registered dietician can suggest the right foods for you in consultation with your doctor and can be an excellent resource for recipes.

Bring a Friend
Healthy friendships can help you stay on track with your health goals. Invite a friend to join you on your heart failure management journey. You can try new recipes together and check in with each other regarding your daily habits.

Get an App for That
A one-stop shop makes life a lot easier. Consider using an app to track your meals, movement, mood, meds and more. The Cormeum app has user-friendly features to help you do just that.

Cormeum will remind you when it’s time to track your habits. You can even document when you’ve taken your medications; look back on past mood trends; track your heart rate, sodium, blood pressure, weight and calories; and share data with your care team.

How to Test for Iron Deficiency

Checking iron levels can be done via home test or lab blood draw.

Home iron tests can be ordered through your pharmacy. Some of these tests collect blood samples via finger pricking; others require users to go to a specific testing site. Lab tests are ordered by your doctor and performed on-site at your health care facility or in a separate testing center. They usually involve a venous blood draw.

According to the National Institute of Health, there are four types of tests for iron levels in the blood:

  • Serum iron test, which measures the amount of iron in the blood
  • Transferrin test, which measures transferrin, a protein that moves
  • iron throughout the body
  • Total iron-binding capacity (TIBC), which measures how well iron
  • attaches to transferrin and other proteins in the blood
  • Ferritin blood test, which measures how much iron is stored in the body

It’s important to consult with your health care provider before undergoing any testing — even the at-home variety. Your care team will help decide which tests and testing method is best for you.

Treating Iron Deficiency

Approaches to improving iron deficiency vary based on your specific condition and treatment plan. Upping your iron can include dietary changes, infusions or supplements.

Dietary Changes
One of the easiest ways to increase iron intake is through foods like beef, spinach and cashews. Try to incorporate one iron-rich food into your diet at a time. To ease the transition, search for heart-healthy recipes that include iron-rich foods and appeal to your tastebuds.

Iron supplements can also give you a boost of iron. Supplementary iron can come in pill form or via intravenous (IV) infusion.

Always consult your doctor before starting any treatments, including diet and supplements. This is especially important because excessive iron consumption can cause serious health complications, even death.

Now You’re Pumping Iron

Iron is essential in many different body functions but is frequently deficient in heart failure patients. While researchers don’t know exactly why or how the two conditions are linked, studies show strong correlations between heart failure and iron deficiency. If you’re concerned about iron deficiency, consult your doctor about testing, tracking and treating iron deficiency.