Hemoglobin consists of iron as a basic structural molecule in addition to protein units as attachment sites. This iron attaches oxygen molecules and transport it in the entire body. Too much iron in the blood is reported in a medical condition that is referred to as hemochromatosis. This iron overload may affect and damage different organs of the body such as heart, muscles, liver, pancreatic cells, glands, etc. It is imperative to mention that appropriate treatment is required for maintaining and decreasing this iron overload in the body.
What Are the Symptoms of Too Much Iron in Blood?
Some of the affected patients of hemochromatosis inherit this condition of iron overload. All these patients may show non-specific symptoms from early childhood, such as generalized weakness, body aches, fatigue and muscular pain.
Specific symptoms of iron overload in men are generally characterized by progressive organ damage, which includes:
- Loss of libido and sex drive
- Chances of impotency
- Heart failure
- Generalized joint pain
It is to be noted that persons with inherited hemochromatosis generally do not show any specific symptoms in their young age, the symptoms starts to appear after 50 years in male and after 60 years in female.
Factors That Can Make It Worse
- Intake of vitamin C is directly related with more absorption of iron from blood leading to worsening of hemochromatosis.
- Excessive intake of alcohol is also one of the leading causes for worsening of iron overload in body.
You should visit a doctor when experiencing any of the signs, especially if someone in your family has a history of this condition.
What Causes Too Much Iron in Blood?
Hemochromatosis or iron overload is majorly of two types, namely primary and secondary hemochromatosis.
The cause in this condition is a defect in the gene which controls the production of iron in the body.
- The gene which is defected in this condition is called as HFE. This gene is inherited from the parents to their off-springs resulting in the extra absorption of iron from the food.
- The body usually maintains the levels of iron in body, through food and different sources. Patients with this defected gene cannot control the levels of iron in their body as a result the iron starts to deposit in different organs such as pancreas, muscles, endocrine glands etc.
Inheritance of HFE gene
During fertilization every human receives two sets of gene, i.e. one from the father and one from mother. If any one of the gene from the parents have HFE gene which is transferred to their offspring then the offspring will not likely to develop this condition of iron overload; however he or she will be the carrier of this disease.
If the child receives HFE gene from both the parents then the child will develop symptoms of hemochromatosis with an average percentage of 10 percent.
This results in combination with some other diseases which lead to build-up of iron. Conditions include:
- Frequent blood transfusions
- Chronic liver diseases
- Anemia (body does not make enough red blood cells)
- The health care practitioner will initially perform a physical examination.
- In suspect of hemochromatosis the physician will order a blood test to determine the iron levels in body.
- Severity of iron overload differ from one another, some do not even show any symptoms while some develop serious complications.
The treatment majorly depends upon the causes of the disease and the organ damage it has involved. For this reason early diagnosis of too much iron in blood gives better outcome.
How to Treat This Condition
The treatment provided for hemochromatosis helps in increasing the quality of life and decreasing the complications.
1. Removal of Blood
Persons with hemochromatosis of defected HFE gene can be treated effectively by removal of blood which is done by phlebotomy. The major aim is the reduction of too much iron present in blood. Some of the states in United States even use this blood for transfusion purpose by FDA permission.
2. Initial Treatment
The person is asked to recline over a chair or in a position, in which he feels comfortable, a needle is then inserted in the vein of the arm and the blood starts to drain in the bag attached with the needle tube. In initial method of treatment approximately 470 milliliters of blood which is equal to one pint is taken out once or twice a week. The time duration for taking out this amount of blood may vary from 15 to 30 minutes depending on the severity of disease and the patient’s condition.
3. Maintenance Treatment
As the iron levels start to become normal the duration for taking out the blood increases, usually to three months. Some people even do not need any further transfusion once their levels come in a normal range. The maintenance schedule varies from patient to patient according to their response against initial treatment.
It should be noticed that the organ damage such as liver damage, diabetes or joint pain will not be reversed by this method of treatment. The physician may recommend an ultrasound for screening of liver carcinoma after interval of time.
Anemic persons who cannot undergo blood removal or phlebotomy are advised to be treated by chelation method. A medication is inserted in the body through injection or through a pill which will form a complex with excess iron in the body and expel it out through feces or urine.
Living with Too Much Iron in Blood
In order to avoid the complications of hemochromatosis a person must take some precautions such as：
- Do not take any iron supplement or fortified food containing iron in it.
- Decrease the amount of vitamin C in food as it increases the absorption of iron
- Decrease intake of alcohol because the risk of developing liver cirrhosis increases in hemochromatosis with alcohol.