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.
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.
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.
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.