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What is IV Chelation?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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IV chelation is a medical treatment in which something which will bind to metal ions is introduced to the bloodstream via intravenous drip. When the chelating agent binds to the metal, it captures it so that it can be safely expressed by the body. Chelation therapy is used to treat people with heavy metal poisoning from metals such as mercury, arsenic, iron, and lead. It is also possible to use chelation to treat people who have ingested a radioactive material, depending on the radioactive agent involved.

Historically, ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA) was used in IV chelation, although dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA) is the preferred treatment in much of the world today. In a chelation session, the patient is fitted with an intravenous drip which can be used to introduce the chelating agent. Several sessions may be required to clear the toxic metal from the patient's body, with blood testing to confirm that the treatment is working.

One situation in which chelation therapy is used is when patients cannot clear iron from their bodies on their own, as seen with some times of anemia and in patients with hemochromatosis, or patients who have ingested a great deal of iron. For people with hemochromatosis, chelation therapy may be used on a regular basis as part of treatment. IV chelation is also used to treat people who have ingested heavy metals in amounts which could pose a health risk, with the goal of removing the metal from the body to arrest or prevent damage.

The medical basis for chelation therapy is sound, and the treatment has been in use since the First World War. However, some practitioners of alternative medicine have taken chelation therapy in directions with a less sound scientific basis. Some organizations promote the use of IV chelation to treat atherosclerosis, for example, arguing that it can help break up plaque in the arteries by binding to calcium in the plaques, although the American Heart Association has spoken out quite vigorously against this.

Chelation has also been proposed to treat autism and for the removal of unspecified “toxins” which may be present in the body. While chelation therapy is not necessarily harmful in these cases, it may not be terribly helpful, either. Pursuing the treatment may also mean that the patient does not receive access to treatments which could be more beneficial, and there have been some cases in which autistic people have died after receiving IV chelation.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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