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Haemochromatosis - do you have too much iron in your blood?

Updated on March 3, 2013

The Low down on Haemochromatosis

Do you suffer from Diabetes, do you have Joint pain, do you have an Irregular Heartbeat, do you suffer from Chronic Fatigue? Well, get ready. You might be suffering from having an excess of iron in your blood, you might have Haemochromatosis. Trying to avoid iron is trying to avoid Oxygen, there is just so much of it in the world, it is after all the 2nd most common mineral on earth. And animal and plant life can’t survive without it. Most of the time, out bodies maintain a fine balance between our daily need for Iron and the amount that is absorbed from our food. Since this week we are dealing with health matters, its well worth discussing one of the less well-known medical problems suffered by many people.

People who have Haemochromatosis are those with a fault in this balancing process. What has happened is, that over the years these people have absorbed and accumulated too much iron, which has lead to a condition called “Iron overload”. If it goes unnoticed, and untreated, all that stored Iron can cause problems for us, particularly organ or tissue damage, and it can be FATAL.

Haemochromatosis is a condition that runs in families, so it’s a hereditary disorder. And it is actually one of the most common genetic problems found amongst Celtic people. It tends to run in individuals whose father and mother carry a defective gene. In wider Europe, roughly between 1 in 30 and 1 in 400 people have a serious potential to develop Iron Overload. The highest incidence of this condition is found in Ireland, where 1 person in 83 has the two genes and so is predisposed to developing Iron Overload. 1 in 5 people who are Irish are carriers of the gene.

What’s insidious about this condition is that it takes years for iron build-up to occur. Men for the most part will start showing the symptoms earlier than women. There are simple reasons for this. Women lose blood through menstruation and child-birth. Sometimes Iron build-up begins early, some may even require treatment in their teens. But there are some people who will have no clinical symptoms at all.



The most common of all the symptoms noticed by people with iron overload are:

Chronic fatigue – tiredness, lethargy
Joint pain – generalised aches and pains
Abdominal pain – vague and non-specific
Sexual dysfunction – loss of one’s sex drive

There are other signs that your doctor can easily test for – they include:

Irregular heart beat
Hormonal change
Enlarged liver
Joint damage

The Symptoms mentioned here can form part of other medical illnesses, and only a doctor should make a diagnosis of Haemochromatosis.


A simple blood test to check your iron status can be done and will confirm or rule out iron overload. The blood test will measure:

1. Transferrin Saturation – this is the ratio of Serum Iron to Total Iron Binding Capacity.
2. Serum Ferritin (an iron-storage protein: a high or raised level of this may indicate an iron-overload)

· A genetic test for the known mutations will confirm the diagnosis. Close relatives – i.e. siblings or offspring of someone with Haemochromatosis should think of being tested for the condition with their GP or hospital specialist.


The treatment is simple and effective. If the condition is detected and found early before any organ damage occurs, the person will have a normal life expectancy. The earlier the iron overload is detected, the less chance of complications occurring.

If damage has already begun to occur, then treatment can prevent further damage. A person’s outlook depends on serious the damage is. The treatment for lowering stored iron may be called Phlebotomy or Venesection, and is the same procedure as one gets when giving a blood donation. This is considered the safest and most effective way of reducing stored iron. The purpose of the treatment is to reduce stored iron (Ferritin) in body tissue to the lower end of the normal range , while avoiding anaemia.

In the beginning, the treatment will mean weekly or twice weekly Phlebotomy so as to rapidly reduce Ferritin levels, then, when normal levels are achieved, maintenance may only require 3 or 4 sessions per year for the remainder of life. The sooner the iron levels are normalised, the better prospects are for the patient.

Some additional facts about Haemochromatosis:

The first case of Iron overload was medically described in 1865, and was for a while known as “Bronze Diabetes”. It was named Haemochromatosis around 1889. Haemo refers to blood, chromat is colour, and any kind of “osis” is a condition. One study revealed that 95% of sufferers never heard of it before being diagnosed with it.

A man has about 4 grams of iron in his blood, while a woman about 3.5 grams. A man will absorb about 1milligram of iron from food, while a woman will absorb about 2 mgs daily. Tobacco smoke contains iron and gets absorbed directly into the blood. Vitamin C, Iron supplements, iron-fortified foods and alcohol can all speed up iron intake into the body. One of the major genes linked to Haemochromatosis was identified in 1996 and is called C282Y. Other genes are known to be involved in iron absorption and much research is ongoing in this area.

This information is for reading purposes and cannot be used for self-diagnosis. If you have any worries about your health, then always contact your G.P. or any hospital specialist. Don’t take health matters for granted. This is to promote awareness and provide information to prevent suffering.

Copyright Cassy Mantis / Cheeky Girl (c) 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013. All rights reserved.

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