Hemochromatosis is a genetic disorder that leads to accumulation of excess iron in the body. This article describes the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment for this condition.
Iron aids in the formation of hemoglobin, which is needed to supply oxygen throughout the body. So iron is essential, but is only required in adequate amounts. To be precise, iron contained in the body must not exceed four grams. Our body absorbs a few milligrams of iron everyday, but due to a genetic disorder called hereditary hemochromatosis, the absorption of iron is increased.
Excess iron cannot be excreted from the body in any way. As a result, it accumulates and causes damage to other important organs like the liver, heart, and joints.
- Heart Diseases
- Enlarged Liver
- Hair Loss
- Muscle Cramps
- Joint Pain
- Abdominal Pain
- Memory loss
The most popular treatment for this condition is phlebotomy, which involves withdrawing one unit of blood from the body every week. As 75% of all the iron in the human body is contained in the blood, withdrawing some of the same helps the body achieve normal levels of iron. However, it can take 2 to 3 years worth of treatment to level the iron amount in a patients body. Phlebotomy can also prevent liver diseases, heart diseases, and joint pain, and an early diagnosis can help avoid severe health complications.
Blood tests like serum ferritin, serum iron, and total iron-binding capacity are helpful in keeping track of iron levels in the blood. However, the tests which include liver biopsy, and genetic tests, can provide an accurate diagnosis of the disease.
Liver biopsy: In a liver biopsy, iron content in the liver tissue is measured. Ultrasound or Computerized Tomography (CT) is used to locate the liver, and a tissue sample from the liver is withdrawn. The sample is then studied microscopically for iron content and signs of damage. A biopsy can also help in determining the presence of other liver diseases like liver cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Genetic Tests: This condition can be caused due to the transfer of a mutated gene from a parent to his/her child. Hence, genetic testing can help in identifying this condition. Such tests involve examining the blood or body tissues of a person to determine if he is suffering from a genetic disorder. Sometimes even DNA testing can be recommended by doctors for this purpose.
According to a study, 2 out of every 200 Americans suffer from hereditary hemochromatosis, so it is not an uncommon disease. People must look out for the symptoms of this condition and undergo diagnostic tests if they fell that they might be suffering from it. People suffering from this condition should not panic, because with daily exercise, proper treatment, and a well-balanced hemochromatosis diet, they can overcome this genetic disorder.