Hemochromatosis: Deadly Iron Disorder

Hemochromatosis: Deadly Iron Disorder

Hemochromatosis

What is it?

Hemochromatosis is a condition in which excess iron salt builds up in the body. Your body does need iron but excess of it is toxic. People who suffer from hemochromatosis absorb more iron than they need. Their body has no natural way to get rid of the extra iron. The excess iron gets stored in body tissues, especially in the liver, pancreas and heart. If extra iron is present in these organs it leads to organ damage. If left untreated, it can cause organ failure.

How much iron should your body have?

Ideally, three to four grams of iron should be present in the body. The total amount of iron present in the body is carefully maintained. Our body loses 1 mg of iron everyday from sweat and cells that are shed from the inner lining of the intestines and skin. Women too, lose one mg of iron daily on average due to menstruation. In healthy adults the intestines absorb one mg of iron everyday from food to replace the lost iron. When iron losses are greater, more iron gets absorbed from food. This is how our body maintains a healthy level of iron.

Types of Hemochromatosis

There are two types of hemochromatosis: Primary hemochromatosis and Secondary hemochromatosis.

  1. Secondary hemochromatosis is usually caused by thalassemia, anemia, blood transfusions or liver disease. Frequent blood transfusions can result in Hemochromatosis. Thus, people getting blood treatments are at a greater risk of developing secondary Hemochromatosis.
  2. The other form of this disease, Primary Hemochromatosis, is an inherited disease. Therefore, it is also known as hereditary hemochromatosis.

What is hereditary hemochromatosis?

Hereditary hemochromatosis is a genetic (inherited) disorder in which there is excessive accumulation of iron in the body (iron overload). Those affected with hereditary hemochromatosis may show no symptoms or signs (and have normal longevity). In some cases, they can show severe symptoms and signs of iron overload including; joint pains, sexual dysfunction, heart failure, cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, darkening of skin and fatigue.

How is hemochromatosis treated?

Hemochromatosis can be treated easily and successfully. The treatment is called Phlebotomy (pronounced “fle-bot-o-me”). In phlebotomy, blood is removed to lower the amount of iron in the body. It is quite similar to giving blood and is the most efficient way to treat the disease.

If phlebotomy treatment is initiated before accumulation of too much iron in the body, it can prevent most of the serious problems of hemochromatosis.

  • If you have not suffered organ failure and get proper care, you can expect to live a normal life.
  • If your organs are already damages the treatment can stop additional damage. But it cannot reverse the existing damage to organs.
  • Even if you have developed serious health problems, treatment can treat many symptoms and improve your quality of life.

3 Comments

  1. Saeyma Singhal says:

    Haemochromatosis has caused me to be diabetic, the iron stored in the liver and I had to have a liver ablation to destroy a tumour.

  2. Jeannie Goodwin says:

    I have this disorder and am interested in information to keep me healthy. I have always been so proud of the fact that both my parents were 100% Irish descent. I never knew anyone in my family to have this disorder. Thank you.

  3. Natalie Simmen says:

    More than one million Americans suffer from Hemochromatosis, and most have to suffer through misdiagnoses and multiple doctor visits before finding the right treatment. If left untreated, Hemochromatosis can lead to heart attack, diabetes, cirrhosis, or cancer.

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