Hemochromatosis, also known as iron overload is a condition that indicates the accumulation of excess iron in the body. Excess iron gets stored in the organs, especially the liver, pancreas and heart. Diabetes, liver disease, heart and joint problems are the top life-threatening conditions caused by iron overload. If left untreated, this condition can eventually be fatal.
What Causes Hemochromatosis?
The two major causes include – Hereditary hemochromatosis (primary) and Transfusional iron overload (secondary).
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It is an inherited genetic disorder that causes the body to absorb excess iron from the food consumed. Factors behind the increased risk of hereditary hemochromatosis include having 2 copies of a mutated HFE gene, family history, ethnicity and sex.
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It can be a result of any other medical condition that can cause an excess buildup of iron. These conditions include –anaemia, chronic liver disease, kidney dialysis and frequent blood transfusions.
How Hereditary Hemochromatosis Affects the Body
If left untreated, Hereditary Hemochromatosis can lead to many complications including:
- Permanent scarring of the liver – this condition increases the risk of life-threatening liver conditions including liver cancer
- Diabetes due to pancreas damage
- Congestive heart failure and arrhythmias
- Arthritis (osteoporosis, osteoarthritis)
- Gallbladder disease
- Impotency, Erectile dysfunction & Infertility
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain, low energy
- Weakness and tiredness
The Diagnosis of Hemochromatosis
Diagnosis of this disease is difficult because other medical conditions have similar symptoms. However, there are a few ways to identify if someone has this disease or not.
1. Analyzing the Family History
To understand the condition better, the doctor may ask the patient about the family history to know if anyone has signs of hemochromatosis. The doctor may also inquire about any family member having a liver disease or arthritis.
2. Conducting a Physical Exam
The doctor might perform a physical examination of the body by tapping on different parts or by using a stethoscope.
3. Blood Test
Transferrin saturation and Serum ferritin are the two blood tests that can give the doctor a clue about the condition. Transferrin saturation reflects the amount of iron stuck in transferrin, while Serum ferritin measures the amount of ferritin.
When either of the diagnosis methods reflect that there is more iron than the body should have, doctors usually take a third test to check if the patient has hemochromatosis causing gene.
4. Biopsy of the Liver
A small piece of the liver is taken to check if excess iron is causing any liver disease symptoms or damage.
using radio waves and magnets, this scan helps the doctors have a closer and more precise look at the organs.
Treatment Options for Hemochromatosis
Phlebotomy –It is the most common treatment of Hemochromatosis that involves removal of blood from the body at regular intervals. In simple words, it is like donating blood.
Chelation Therapy – This procedure uses certain medicines that help in removal of excess iron from the body. It is often recommended to those who cannot undergo routine blood removal due to some other medical condition.
Change in Diet –The doctor advises immediate changes in the diet once someone is diagnosed with hemochromatosis. Commonly advised diet changes include:
- Limited intake of iron including pills, injections or multivitamins
- Limited intake of food that is rich in Vitamin C because it helps the body in absorbing iron from food
- Avoiding intake of shellfish or uncooked fish as the bacteria present in them can cause severe infections
Timely treatment removes excess iron from the blood, limits the progression of the condition and prevents organ damage. Furthermore, the patient must get regular blood tests done as long as the condition persists.
If you experience any of the symptoms, the advice is to consult a specialist to get a clear idea of the situation. Moreover, if the disease has already started affecting the liver, consider visiting any of the best liver hospitals in Delhi like Max Healthcare for timely treatment of the condition. Early diagnosis and treatment have saved many lives while providing a better quality of life.