What is hemochromatosis?

6 answers | Last updated: Oct 16, 2016
Msbcarter asked...

My dad has too much iron in his blood. Does this mean that there is a possibility he might have cancer of the blood? What does hemochromatosis mean?

Expert Answers

Jennifer Serafin, N.P. is a registered nurse and geriatric nurse practitioner at the Jewish Homes for the Aged in San Francisco.

Hemochromatosis, a genetic condition, causes your body to absorb too much iron from food. The excess iron is stored in your liver, heart and pancreas, which eventually damages these organs. This leads heart problems, diabetes, and liver disease. If left untreated, it can also cause liver cancer in up to 30% of patients.

Signs and symptoms of hemochromatosis usually appear in middle age. The most common complaint is pain in the joints, but it can also cause fatigue and abdominal pain.

Hemochromatosis can be effectively treated by periodic phlebotomies, which is removing blood from your body to lower the level of iron (like giving blood transfusions). If this cannot be done for some reason, chelating agents can be given to remove iron from the blood.

Your father should be followed by a hematologist. He needs to have his blood iron levels checked frequently to make sure whatever treatment they give him is working. Good luck!

Community Answers

Tater answered...

This answer/reply create more questions in my mind. What are the cut-offs (iron levels inblood) to determine is someones levels are clincially too "high?" My levels are about 33% higher than the "high" end of the normal range, but no physician has ever said anything about it.

Thank you for any and all assistance.

Tootsie @ 60 answered...

My younger brother had to have a liver biopsy when his hemochromatotis was discovered. (His Iron levels were alarmingly high) After having a phlebotomy every other week for several years - his blood levels are normal.
I was in my late 50's when my iron levels became elevated and I to, was diagnosed with it. Women don't usually experience "Iron Overload" until after menopose. Our doctor told us there are usually no symptoms until damage has already been done. This disease was not discovered until the 1990's so a lot of folks have never even heard of it.
Once Diagnosed with a blood test it is easy to manage by periodically monitoring the iron levels in your blood and lowering it with Phlebotomies when necessary.

Tater answered...

What is the exact "level" at which a diagnosis of hemochromocytosis is made? If my labs iron level states the high end at 150, and I am 190, does that mean I have it? Does anyone know how is it "exactly" diagnosed?

Tootsie @ 60 answered...

Tater, There was a specific blood test done to diagnosis the disease after my first routine (yearly physical) results came back high. Definately have your primary care physician refer you to a specialist.

Tater answered...

THanks, Tootsie.