Iron supplements “could help stave off DVT and other life-threatening blood clots”
Painful: One in 1,000 people in Britain each year is affected by blood clots, which often form in the legs during air travel or long periods of being immobile
Iron supplements could be used to prevent deep vein thrombosis and other life-threatening blood clots, new research shows.
Each year, one in 1,000 people in Britain is affected by clots that form in the veins, and scientists now believe the risk could rise in those with a lack of iron.
DVT is often associated with long distance air travel and other situations that involve being immobile for long periods of time.
Clots frequently form in the legs causing painful swelling and, in some cases, a danger that lumps of blood will dislodge and travel to the lungs with fatal results.
Researchers at Imperial College London studied 609 patients with blood vessel disease haemorrhagic telangiectasia, who have a higher risk of blood clots.
They found that this increased risk disappeared when the HHT sufferers took iron supplements.
Many of the patients had low iron levels, because of iron loss through excessive bleeding – a symptom of HHT.
The study, published in the journal Thorax, found that a blood-iron level of six micromoles per litre compared with the normal mid-range figure of 17 micromoles led to a 2.5-fold increase in venous thrombosis risk.
Lead researcher Dr Claire Shovlin, from the university”s National Heart and Lung Institute, said: “Our study shows that in people with HHT, low levels of iron in the blood is a potentially treatable risk factor for blood clots.
“There are small studies in the general population which would support these findings, but more studies are needed to confirm this.
“If the finding does apply to the general population, it would have important implications in almost every area of medicine.”
Iron deficiency anaemia is thought to affect at least one billion people worldwide. Its association with clotting may have been missed before because blood iron levels fluctuate during the day.
Dangerous: Clots can form when blood cells collect in a mass of platelets – which prevent blood loss – and a mesh-like protein called fibrin
Other markers of iron deficiency can go unnoticed if certain medical conditions are present.
The scientists said that obtaining reliable data depended on consistent timing of blood samples.
Low iron levels were associated with higher levels of Factor VIII, a blood protein which promotes normal clotting. This in turn was a strong risk factor for blood clots.
Making the blood clot more easily after losing iron might be an evolutionary trick to aid survival, suggested Dr Shovlin.
She added: “We can speculate that in evolutionary terms, it might be advantageous to promote blood clotting when your blood is low in iron, in order to prevent further blood loss”.