What Is Iron Overload And How To Treat It?
Too much of a good thing is sometimes bad for health, right? ‘Iron overload’ condition gives us the similar message. It’s a disorder in which your body consumes too much iron and stores it in organs such as heart, liver, joints, and pancreas. This excess of iron storage damages the organs. This disorder is technically called hemochromatosis.
Reasons of Iron Overload
There are basically two reasons of this surplus iron:
It runs in families. If you get two genes one each from your mother and father, you are at risk of getting iron overload disease.
The secondary reason occurs when a person goes through a lot of blood transfusions or suffering from anemia, some kind of liver disease, cancer or bone marrow transplantation is also at a risk of developing hemochromatosis. Men are 5 times at risk of getting iron overload as compared to women.
Symptoms of Iron Overload
Unfortunately, about half of the people suffering from iron overload don’t show up any symptoms. Men aged between 30 and 50 tend to show up some signs while women might show over the age of 50 or post-menopause. This is because they are bound to lose iron during their menses or after giving birth. Symptoms of iron overload include.
- Pain in joints, especially in the knuckles
- Weight loss
- Pain in stomach
- Fluttering heart
- Feeling of tiredness
- Loss of sex drive
- Hazy memory
- Loss of body hair
Sometimes people with hemochromatosis don’t get any symptoms until they are notified about more serious problems including abnormal heartbeat, erectile dysfunction, liver problems, diabetes, arthritis, etc. Also, people suffering from hemochromatosis can make it worse if they consume a lot of vitamin C containing foods as it helps body absorb iron from the food.
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Diagnosis of Iron Overload
It’s a bit tricky to diagnose because other disorders might have the same symptoms. But your doctor initially would be monitoring three crucial things:
- You have symptoms
- You have serious problems such as abnormal heartbeat, liver problems, etc. (as mentioned above)
- If your family member has this condition
Some doctors need blood samples to get a clue about the nature of the disorder. The blood test will include
- Transferrin saturation that shows how much iron is stored in transferrin protein that carries blood.
- Serum Ferritin that measures the level of ferritin, a protein that stores iron in the blood.
If the blood samples indicate any of the above, then your doctor might tell you to undergo third test. This would include
- Liver biopsy to determine if there is damage to liver
- MRI scan of your organs
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Treatment options for Iron Overload
Iron overload is treated through chelation therapy which will remove blood from your body on a regular basis. The goal is to remove some portion of your overall blood so that the iron levels return to normal. This is a long-term treatment and needs continuous monitoring.
Another therapy to treat iron overload is Therapeutic phlebotomy. It is similar to blood donation in which a large amount of blood is removed. The iron removed within the red blood cells will be replaced by bone marrow which will use additional iron from your body.
1. Kohgo Y, et al.(2008).Body iron metabolism and pathophysiology of iron overload. read more
2. July is National Hemochromatosis Awareness Month(2013,July 11) read more
3. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2017, August 08). Hemochromatosis read more