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Iron Overload (Hemochromatosis)

Written by
Dr. Potnuru Srinivaasa Sudhakar
and medically reviewed by Dr. Sneha Kannan

Published on Jul 26, 2019   -  2 min read



Iron overload (Hemochromatosis) is a heterogeneous group of disease resulting from inherited and acquired causes, which leads to body destruction and complication.

Iron Overload (Hemochromatosis)

What is Hemochromatosis?

Consuming too much iron or too much iron absorption can damage the body. The skin color changes to bronze. High iron levels can be both good and bad for the cardiovascular system. It may lower the clogging of arteries, or it may show the risk of blood clots. While examining people, three types of risks were identified, which are:

So here, the higher levels of iron will protect the blood vessels from atherosclerosis and risk for formation of thrombosis related to stasis of blood.

Excessive iron is stored in the liver, heart, pancreas, and other organs. This can damage the pancreas, which causes diabetes, hereditary hemochromatosis, cancer, and heart disease.

In women, due to loss of blood during menses, hemochromatosis is less common than males. Blood loss reduces iron levels.

What Are the Types of IRON Overload?

Iron overload disorders can be divided into two types.

  1. Primary - Otherwise called classic hemochromatosis, which is passed on genetically.
  2. Secondary - It can result from anemia (Thalassemia), chronic liver disease (chronic hepatitis), or alcoholic liver disease.

Those who are diagnosed hemochromatosis need necessary treatment to avoid further iron deposition in the body.

What Causes Hemochromatosis?

Some genetic factors of two copies of mutated high iron (HFE gene) are the most important cause for hemochromatosis. In family history, if a parent has this gene, the child, brother, or sister might get this disease. Males are more commonly affected than females. Women may develop this disease after menopause or hysterectomy.

Healthy people absorb up to 10 % of iron of the total iron consumed. If 30 % or more iron is absorbed from the total consumed, it results in hemochromatosis. Excess iron destroys organs about 5 to 20 times the amount of iron in the body, which results in organ failures like cirrhosis, heart disease, and diabetes.

Juvenile hemochromatosis is an inherited disease that results from defects in the gene called hemojuvelin. A person without genetic mutation due to the result of a condition triggers secondary hemochromatosis.

  1. Thalassemia.
  2. Chronic liver disease due to hepatitis C.
  3. Alcoholic liver disease.
  4. Blood transfusions.
  5. Some diseases affect red blood cells.
  6. Drinking beer (African iron overload).
  7. Oral iron pills.
  8. Iron injections with or without vitamin C.
  9. Long term kidney dialysis.

In newborn babies, the accumulation of iron results in neonatal hemochromatosis.

What Are the Symptoms of IRON Overload?

  • Abdominal pain.
  • In females, amenorrhea.
  • High blood sugar.
  • Decreased libido in females, impotence in males.
  • Small testicles.
  • Bronzed skin.
  • Fatigue and pain on touch.
  • Weight loss, weakness.

They may develop arthritis, heart disease, joint diseases.

What Are the Diagnostic Tests?

  1. Serum transferrin saturation - If the saturation is more than 40%, it is considered too high.
  2. Serum ferritin - If serum transferrin saturation is higher than normal, we should check for ferritin.
  3. Liver function tests.
  4. Testing for gene mutations.
  5. Liver biopsy.

What Are the Treatment Options?

  • Blood removal.
  • Avoid iron supplements.
  • Avoid vitamin C.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Avoid eating raw fish and shellfish.

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Last reviewed at:
26 Jul 2019  -  2 min read




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