Hemochromatosis is too much iron in the body. It is also called iron overload.
There are two types of hemochromatosis:
Hemochromatosis affects more men than women. It is particularly common in Caucasians of western European descent.
The doctor or nurse will perform a physical exam. This may show liver and spleen swelling, and skin color changes.
Blood tests may help make the diagnosis. Tests may include:
Other tests may include:
The condition may be confirmed and treated with a liver biopsy or phlebotomy, a procedure that removes blood to lower the amount of iron in the body.
If a genetic defect is confirmed, other blood tests can be used to determine if other family members are at risk for iron overload.
The goal of treatment is to remove excess iron from the body and treat any organ damage.
A procedure called phlebotomy is the best method for removing excess iron from the body.
How often you need this procedure depends on your symptoms and your levels of hemoglobin and serum ferritin, and how much iron you take in your diet.
Testosterone hormone therapy can help improve the loss of sexual desire and changes in secondary sexual characteristics. Diabetes, arthritis, liver failure, and heart failure should be treated as appropriate.
If you are diagnosed with hemochromatosis, you should follow a special diet to reduce how much iron is absorbed from your digestive tract. Your doctor or nurse will recommend:
Untreated, iron overload can lead to liver damage.
Extra iron may also build up in other areas of the body, including the thyroid gland, testicles, pancreas, pituitary gland, heart, or joints. Early treatment can help prevent complications such as liver disease, heart disease, arthritis or diabetes.
How well you do depends on the amount of organ damage. Some organ damage can be reversed when hemochromatosis is detected early and treated aggressively with phlebotomy.
The disease may lead to the development of:
Call your health care provider if symptoms of hemochromatosis develop.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider (for screening) if a family member has been diagnosed with hemochromatosis.
Screening family members of a person diagnosed with hemochromatosis may detect the disease early so that treatment can be started before organ damage has occurred in other affected relatives.
Bacon BR. Iron overload (hemochromatosis) In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 219.
Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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