If found, early HH is easily treated. Untreated HH can lead to severe organ damage. Excess iron builds up in the cells of the liver, heart, pancreas, joints, and pituitary gland. This leads to diseases such as
of the liver,
liver cancer, diabetes, coronary artery disease, and joint disease.
HH is caused by a genetic defect. It is passed down through autosomal recessive inheritance. This means a child who inherits 2 genes, 1 from each parent, is very likely to develop HH. However, not all people who have 2 copies of the gene develop signs and symptoms of HH.
Hemochromatosis is usually present in men between 30-50 years old and in women over 50 years old (postmenopausal). Factors that may increase the chances of HH:
The first step is to rid the body of excess iron by removing blood. The schedule will depend on how severe the iron overload is. A pint of blood will be taken once or twice a week for several months to a year (or possibly longer).
When iron levels return to normal, maintenance therapy is given. A pint of blood is given every 2-4 months for life. Some people may need it more often. Females may need to increase their schedule after menopause.
Lifestyle changes include steps to reduce the amount of iron you consume and/or absorb, and to help protect your liver:
Do not eat red meat or raw shellfish.
Do not take vitamin C supplements.
Do not take iron supplements.
Treating Associated Medical Conditions
You may need to be treated for other conditions that have developed. Hemochromatosis can cause:
Enlargement of the spleen
To help reduce the chances of hemochromatosis:
Brothers and sisters of people who have hemochromatosis should have their blood tested. This will help identify those who have the disease or are carriers.
Parents, children, and other close relatives of people who have the disease should consider testing.
A genetic counselor can help you review your family history, determine your specific risks, and review the appropriate testing.
Hemochromatosis. American Liver Foundation website. Available at: https://www.liverfoundation.org/for-patients/about-the-liver/diseases-of-the-liver/hemochromatosis. Accessed March 26, 2018.
Hemochromatosis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/liver-disease/hemochromatosis/Pages/facts.aspx. Updated March 2014. Accessed March 26, 2018.
Last reviewed March 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated: 5/1/2014
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