February 19, 2010

Diagnosis & Cure for Hemochromatosis

Posted in Category : Common Ailments

Hemochromatosis is a genetic abnormality that causes build-up of excess iron in the blood. In healthy people, some iron is absorbed from food and is an important constituent of blood. Iron-rich hemoglobin cells are used to distribute fresh oxygen to all the organs. However, the body has no way of processing excess amounts of iron. In this case, the iron is deposited in organs and damages them, leading to serious medical problems. Excess iron has been linked to failure of critical organs such as the liver, pancreas, and heart. Other complications include arthritis, heart abnormalities, thyroid deficiency, and early menopause in women. The skin in some patients is discolored, with an abnormal tone of gray or bronze.


A blood test can reveal the amounts of iron in the blood, helping to diagnose hemochromatosis. A “trans-ferrin saturation” test is used to measure the concentration of iron that is bound to the proteins in blood. If this concentration has a value of 45 and higher, it is considered above normal. A liver biopsy may also be performed to examine a small piece of the liver for presence of iron. You may even have to undergo a test to detect the HFE mutation responsible for the hemochromatosis. Once the cause is confirmed, the treatment is focused on reducing the amount of iron in the blood and body. In cases that are detected early, before any significant build-up of iron, prescription medication can be sufficient to remove the excess iron. For other patients, a simple and common treatment is to simply remove some blood using the same process as a blood donation. Depending on the existing levels of iron, a pint of blood may be removed once a week for a few months. When the body produces fresh blood, the existing iron concentration will be diluted.


The success of this treatment, called phlebotomy, depends on avoiding iron in the patient’s diet. The only way to prevent excess iron is a lifelong ban on foods that are rich in iron. This includes liver, red meats, fortified breakfast cereal, and leafy green vegetables, such as spinach. Any multivitamins and supplements should be checked to see if they have iron. Since this condition damages the liver, alcohol has to be avoided to prevent more serious damage. Some raw seafood contains bacteria that can infect patients with reduced liver function. If treatment and a healthy diet are followed, patients can soon reduce the harmful effects of iron and live regular, healthy lifestyles.