Haemochromatosis refers to a condition where excessive amounts of iron accumulate in the internal organs of the body. It is also termed as “iron overload”.
People affected by this ailment either have a defect in the gene responsible for controlling the capacity of iron absorbed from foods, or another severe debilitating illness.
This results in the iron present in foods, that has been ingested, being absorbed in tremendous volumes by the intestines. This, in turn, gives rise to a situation where a large quantity of iron gets stored in the joints in the body, as well as in the liver, heart and pancreas.
Haemochromatosis is of two types:
This form of haemochromatosis is hereditary. Those acquiring a defective gene from both parents are at a higher risk of obtaining the disease.
This kind of haemochromatosis occurs due to another underlying condition such as anemia, liver disease or repeated blood transfusions.
Haemochromatosis is much more common in men than in women. Moreover, if timely medical intervention is not given, this condition can cause irreparable damage to vital core organs in the body.
Haemochromatosis is often not detected until much later, as symptoms are usually very subtle or negligible. In men, the signs of haemochromatosis appear between the ages of 30 and 50. However, in women it occurs usually post-menopause, as until then, menstruation and pregnancy lead to the constant loss of iron from the body.
The initial indications of this iron storage disorder include:
- Joint pain
- Feeling tired
- Weight loss
- Stomach pain
- Greying or bronzing of the skin
- Loss of body hair
- Lapses in memory
Severe signals of this instance of iron overload comprise of:
Diagnosis And Treatment:
The physician begins by conducting a thorough check of the history as well as a physical exam, to look for symptoms presenting in the patient or any case of haemochromatosis that has been recorded in family members. Analysis of iron transport and storage proteins in the blood helps the doctor determine if there is a surplus of iron in the body.
This is followed by a liver biopsy to look for signs of damage in the tissue, and also MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) tests, to scan the other central organs in the body.
Once the diagnosis of haemochromatosis is confirmed, the medical practitioner performs phlebotomy – a procedure to remove blood containing excess iron from the body at regular intervals of time. Depending upon the severity of the ailment, this treatment could take up to one year. This will help to bring down the blood iron levels to normal in the affected person.
In case this process is ineffective, the healthcare provider prescribes certain iron chelation medications that can be taken orally as a pill, or administered in the form of an injection, to aid in the removal of additional iron from the bloodstream.