When the body absorbs too much iron from the foods that are eaten, hemochromatosis occurs. The body basically experiences iron overload because it cannot break the iron down very well, so too much is absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract; there are various reasons that can cause too much iron to be absorbed, but this is usually the case. Over time, your body may accumulate as much as 5-20 times more than the normal level of iron. When iron is present in excess, it is stored in places that it shouldn’t be, such as the liver, heart, pancreas, and the joints. The iron can, and usually does, damage these organs, leading to life-threatening conditions, including cancer and heart or liver problems. Symptoms aren’t always present, but there are some pretty common symptoms that tend to occur in most people. There are complications that can result if treatment isn’t undergone.

There are different types—primary and secondary—of hemochromatosis and also different causes. Primary hemochromatosis, or hereditary hemochromatosis, is an inherited disease; this is the most common form of the disease. When the primary form is the cause, it will have been there since birth, but many people don’t experience symptoms until later in life, around age 30 in men and 50 in women. Secondary hemochromatosis is caused by anemia, alcoholism, and other disorders. There are two additional kinds: juvenile hemochromatosis, in which the symptoms begin much earlier in life, and neonatal hemochromatosis, in which a baby can be stillborn or die after only a few days of living.

As previously mentioned, symptoms are not always present, and they may be different in men and women. Essentially, excess iron has many of the same symptoms of too little iron in the blood (a condition known as anemia). In either case, the iron isn’t where it is supposed to be and it isn’t in the proper amounts. However, they can include: joint pain, arthritis, abdominal pain, fatigue, darkening of skin color, lack of energy, loss of body hair, decreased libido, weight loss, weakness, high blood sugar levels, low thyroid function, abnormal liver function tests. After the disease has progressed, it is possible to have organ failure in the liver, kidneys, and heart.

If hemochromatosis isn’t treated, regardless of the cause, there can be damage to the organs and joints that the extra iron has built up in. The liver can develop cancer or and/or cirrhosis (a permanent scarring of the liver); cirrhosis can cause its own set of complications, including bleeding from the stomach or intestines and severe fluid retention that can occur in the abdomen.

The pancreas, which is responsible for secreting insulin (a hormone in charge of blood sugar levels), can be damaged. Diabetes can result from this inability to control blood sugar levels. The heart can develop congestive heart failure (caused by the inability of the heart to circulate blood properly) or heart arrhythmias, which are heartbeat irregularities. However, both of these can be successfully treated if they are caught within a reasonable time frame after the onset. The skin, while this is not a serious complication, can develop a color change due to the deposits of iron in the skin cells.

There are a few treatments that have been successful in treating hemochromatosis. The following are possible options. Blood draws. Drawing blood from the body on a regular basis can help keep iron levels in check; however, instead of just giving blood as if you were donating it, the goal is to reduce iron levels. The amount of blood depends on the age and overall health of the individual and the severity of the hemochromatosis. Catching it early. Perhaps the most successful way to treat hemochromatosis is to catch it early, before any damage is done to the liver, heart, or other organs. Otherwise, once these problems have already developed, it is possible to slow the progression of the disease, and treat the organs accordingly.

Avoid iron supplements, multivitamins containing iron, and vitamin C supplements. The first two will increase iron stores even more, and vitamin C helps the body absorb more iron, which is definitely not a desirable thing. Avoid alcohol. Alcohol is already bad for the liver, but if there is already damage to the liver (or a potential for damage to occur), it is best to avoid alcohol.

Last updated on Aug 28th, 2010 and filed under Other Conditions & Diseases. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed