Hemochromatosis: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment


Hemochromatosis: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Hemochromatosis is an inherited disease that is passed down generations. It causes the body to deposit excessive iron in the organs and tissues. This deposited iron can lead to organ failure without leaving any chance for its prevention. However, with the help of on-time medical intervention, the risk of untimely death or organ dysfunction can be reversed. 

If you or someone you know is suffering from hemochromatosis, this article can help you understand and manage the disease a little better. Here, you will read all about hemochromatosis, including types, hemochromatosis causes, hemochromatosis symptoms, and the treatment. 

What is Hemochromatosis?

Hemochromatosis, or iron overload, is a critical disease that needs immediate medical attention. It occurs when your intestines start to absorb iron from food or supplements but do not excrete the extra amount. In this scenario, iron starts to build up in the organs, especially in the liver, pancreas, pituitary glands, and heart. 

Negligence in the diagnosis or treatment can result in serious problems such as cirrhosis, cancer, congestive heart failure, early menopause, adrenal gland damage, pituitary damage, and much more. In medical terms, doctors also call it ‘bronze diabetes’ because the patient’s skin bears a tiny resemblance to bronze color.

Studies show that men are more prone to become victims of this disease than women. Women usually suffer from iron deficiency due to their menstrual cycles. In contrast to this, men exhibit symptoms of this disease when they become older. Typically, it takes 20 to 30 years before the early signs of disease manifest themselves. However, children are less affected by the disease because both parents need to be the carriers of the hemochromatosis genes.

Hemochromatosis Causes

There are two types of hemochromatosis disease based on different causes.Given below are the different types of hemochromatosis disease and their underlying causes: 

Primary Hemochromatosis

Primary hemochromatosis is also known as genetic hemochromatosis, which is found in the genes of the family members. This disease is inherited, if both the parents are carriers of the hemochromatosis gene. If the patient has the defective genes of only one parent, he can not be diagnosed with this disease. However, it has been found that all siblings in a family do not always manifest symptoms of the disease. If one suffers from it, there is no guarantee that the other sibling will also carry the disease. 

Researchers are still trying to pinpoint the cause of this behaviour of hemochromatosis disease.

Secondary Hemochromatosis

Secondary hemochromatosis develops in the body when the cause of iron overload is not hereditary but the issue of erythropoietic hemochromatosis. In this disease, red blood cells, which usually produce haemoglobin to supply oxygen throughout the body, become too fragile to produce more iron. Here are some of  the causes that can trigger the disease of secondary hemochromatosis:

  • Overconsumption of alcohol
  • Chances of hereditary diseases such as heart disorder, diabetes, etc
  • Iron supplements
  • Vitamin C or multivitamins supplements
  • Anaemia or transferrin saturation
  • Frequent blood transfusion
  • Chronic kidney disease (dialysis sessions for a long time)
  • Liver disease such as fatty liver disease or hepatitis C infections

Hemochromatosis Symptoms

The symptoms of the disease hemochromatosis don’t appear in the initial stage in many patients. On the flip side, some patients may experience some symptoms before they suffer from multiple organ dysfunction: 

Given below are some of the initial symptoms of hemochromatosis:

  • Debility 
  • Bronze or grey colour skin
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Joint pain
  • Stomach pain
  • Low sex drive
  • Weight loss without any medical problem
  • Pain in the knuckles of the middle fingers
  • Frequent urination

What Risk Factors are Associated with Hemochromatosis?

Given below are some of the long term consequences of not seeking out proper healthcare in case of Hemochromatosis:

  • Heart failure
  • Arrhythmia
  • Liver cancer
  • Liver damage
  • Cirrhosis (or scarring of the liver)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Thyroid
  • Damage to the pituitary gland
  • Damage to the spleen and adrenal glands

Hemochromatosis Treatment

The main aim of the treatment of hemochromatosis is to lower iron in the body. Therefore, the following treatments are recommended based on age, health conditions, and other factors:

Phlebotomy or Bloodletting

This procedure is similar to when you donate blood. In this treatment, a healthcare professional takes out the extra blood through the patient’s vein. He does it to lower the amount of blood. The extra blood is transferred into a bag. This treatment is given on a weekly basis and can go up to two or three years, depending on the amount of iron that has been deposited in the body's organs. 

Once the excessive iron is removed from the body and the level of iron becomes normal in red blood cells, the patient will have to undergo a regular annual iron checkup. It is vital to monitor the level of iron in red blood cells despite the disease reversal. There is often a chance of hemochromatosis symptoms relapsing after recovery.

Chelation

Another treatment that has recently been developed in medical science is chelation. This is not the best treatment for hemochromatosis. Its efficiency in making the body free from the excessive quantity of iron is low.  However, it can be given to those patients whose health condition is not suitable for a phlebotomy procedure. 

Furthermore, chelation is recommended for those who have been suffering from major heart health conditions. In this treatment, the healthcare professional either injects the drugs or prescribes oral pills. The main purpose of these medications is to make bowels excrete an extra amount of iron.  

How to Lower the Risk of Hemochromatosis?

By making some lifestyle adjustments, you might be able to lower the risk of the disease hemochromatosis:

  1. Don’t miss annual health checkups to monitor the presence of iron in red blood cells
  2. Avoid the intake of iron or vitamin supplements if you are at risk of hemochromatosis disease
  3. Avoid alcoholic beverages and smoking cigarettes to prevent the risk of liver damage
  4. Follow the doctor’s advice and visit his clinic for regular consultation
  5. Contact your doctor immediately if you face any severe symptoms 

Let’s Sum It Up!

Hemochromatosis is a rare genetic disease that occurs when the patient receives defective genes from both parents. While its risk can’t always be avoided, on-time treatment can lower the chances of organ damage. Hence, you should not avoid regular annual health checkups if someone in your family is diagnosed with the disease. 

An illness like hemochromatosis not only creates physical and mental trauma but can also affect your finances severely. Buying a health insurance policy comes with financial protection that you can use to safeguard your family’s happiness in case of any medical exigency. 

Care Health Insurance is a one-stop destination for all those who have been looking for comprehensive health coverage at affordable premiums. If you haven’t invested in a health insurance policy yet or are looking for more coverage, get in touch with Care today. Invest in the right policy today and protect your savings from hefty hospital bills. 

>> Also Read: Importance of Health Insurance in High BP

Disclaimers: The above information is for reference purposes only. Kindly consult your general physician for verified medical advice. The health insurance benefits are subject to policy terms and conditions. Refer to your policy documents for more information.

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