Too much iron in the body is usually found in a disease calledhemochromatosis. Primary form of the illness is genetically predisposed andsecondary hemochromatosis is mostly caused by anemia, abuse of alcohol and someother conditions. This illness can present itself in babies and teenagers evenyoung people and these cases have severe consequences.
Hemochromatosis is caused by over-absorption and over-storing of the iron inthe body, resulting in liver, heart and pancreas storage and then seriousproblems with these organs. In normal conditions, a healthy person use 10% ofiron from the food. In hemochromatosis that percent goes up to 30, and could goto more than 200%.
The illness might be caused by genetic disorder. Mutation of the genes, suchas HFE and hemojuvelin, leads to primary, neonatal and juvenile cases of hemochromatosis.0,5% of Americans are at risk of developing this illness. It is more common toCaucasians and people of African, Asian, Hispanic origin, or Native Americansare less likely to inherit the disease.
Common symptoms of hemochromatosis are joint pains, tiredness, decreasedlibido, heart problems and stomach pain, but some of the patients don’t haveany symptoms at all. Untreated hemochromatosis may affect the joints, leadingto arthritis, create serious liver, pancreas and heart issues, impotence,premature menopause, gray or bronze skin coloration, problems with thyroid andadrenal glands.
Diagnosis is confirmed with routine blood tests, showing the levels of ironin the blood. Transferrin saturation over 45% and high levels of ferritin arethe reason for a specialist to make a HFE mutation detection test, to confirmthe illness. Sometimes it is necessary to do further tests to check the possibleiron damage to the liver. It is not unusual that the illness remains unnoticedand untreated. Most of the early symptoms are indecisive and doctors couldtreat the symptoms such as arthritis or organ problems not realizing theproper cause. Usually the disease is treatable and doesn’t affect a patient’slife, except in severe cases when hemochromatosis has already damage liver,heart or pancreas. The prognosis depends on the degree of the damaged organ.Complicated cases of the disease are treated in specialized hemochromatosiscenters.
The treatment for hemochromatosis is called phlebotomy. That’s an easy, safeand inexpensive process, which includes draw of pint or more blood from thepatient, once or two times per week and controls of ferritin. The goal of theprocess is to bring ferritin levels to normal (25-50 micrograms per liter).Usually, hemochromatosis patients give a pint of blood every 2 to 4 months alltheir life. Most of the symptoms disappear after the removal of excessive iron,but the arthritis stays for good.
Patients with hemochromatosis should not take iron or supplements of vitaminC. Raw seafood and alcohol may affect the damaged liver, so they should beavoided in patients with liver complications.
Immediate family of the hemochromatosis patients (parent, children and closerelatives) should test their blood to see if they are carriers or have thedisease. Doctors recommend blood tests for hemochromatosis to patients witharthritis increased levels of liver enzymes, diabetes, severe tiredness andimpotence.