Encyclopedia Home / H / Hemochromatosis

Hemochromatosis

  • Treatment

    The goal of treatment is to remove excess iron from the body and treat any organ damage.

    A procedure called phlebotomy is the best method for removing excess iron from the body. One-half liter of blood is removed from the body each week until the body iron level is normal. This may require many months or even years to accomplish. After that, less frequent phlebotomy is needed to maintain normal iron levels. How often you need this procedure depends on your symptoms and your levels of hemoglobin and serum ferritin, and how much iron you take in your diet.

    Testosterone hormone therapy can help improve the loss of sexual desire and changes in secondary sexual characteristics. Diabetes, arthritis, liver failure, and heart failure should be treated as appropriate.

    If you are diagnosed with hemochromatosis, you should follow a special diet to reduce how much iron is absorbed from your diet. The diet prohibits alcohol, especially for patients who have liver damage. You will also be told to avoid iron pills or vitamins containing iron, vitamin supplements, iron cookware, raw seafood (cooked is fine), or fortified processed foods such as 100% iron breakfast cereals.


    Support Groups


    Expectations (prognosis)

    Over time, liver scarring and damage can occur. Extra iron may also build up in other body tissues such as the thyroid, testicles, pancreas, pituitary gland, heart, or joints. If treatment begins before any of these organs have been affected, diseases such as liver disease, heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes can usually be prevented.

    How well a person does depends on the amount of organ damage. Some organ damage can be reversed when hemochromatosis is detected early and treated aggressively with phlebotomy.


    Complications

    Complications include:

    • Liver failure
    • Liver cancer

    The disease may lead to the development of:

    • Arthritis
    • Diabetes
    • Heart problems
    • Increased risk for certain bacterial infections
    • Liver cirrhosis
    • Long-term abdominal pain
    • Testicular atrophy
    • Severe fatigue
    • Skin coloring changes

    Calling your health care provider

    Call your health care provider if symptoms of hemochromatosis develop.

    Call for an appointment with your health care provider (for screening) if a family member has been diagnosed with hemochromatosis.