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Hemochromatosis - Symptoms and Treatment

Hemochromatosis occurs when the body absorbs too much iron from foods (and other sources such as vitamins containing iron). This disease causes extra iron to gradually build up in the body's tissues and organs, a term called iron overload. It is a common genetic disorder among Caucasians in the United States, affecting approximately one in 240 to 300 Caucasians. Individuals affected with hereditary hemochromatosis may have no symptoms or signs or they can have severe symptoms and signs of iron overload that include dysfunction, heart failure , joint pains , liver cirrhosis , diabetes mellitus, fatigue , and darkening of skin. The greatest amount is found in red meat and iron-fortified bread and cereal. In the body, iron becomes part of hemoglobin, a molecule in the blood that transports oxygen from the lungs to all body tissues. Healthy people usually absorb about 10 percent of the iron contained in the food they eat to meet the body needs. People with hemochromatosis absorb more than the body needs. The body has no natural way to rid itself of the excess iron, so it is stored in body tissues, especially the liver, heart, and pancreas. Hereditary hemochromatosis is one of the most common genetic diseases in humans, but it can be undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Undiagnosed and untreated can develop into diseases such as diabetes, heart trouble, arthritis, cirrhosis of the liver, neurological problems, depression, impotence, infertility, and liver cancer. Iron build up in those with HHC is slow, usually taking years to build to destructive levels. HHC/Iron overload generally manifests in a male's early thirties and is diagnosed in a male's mid to late fifties. For this reason HHC has acquired the mistaken identity of an older male's disease. HHC can be present in females, adolescents and possibly in children.

Causes of Hemochromatosis

Common Causes of Hemochromatosis :

  • HGE, a specific gene for hemochromatosis, has been identified.
  • A condition called African iron overload, which is a combination of an inherited disorder and diet.
  • Chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis, alcoholic liver disease, or nonalcoholic steatohepatitis ("steato" means "fatty")
  • Atransferrinemia and aceruloplasminemia, both rare inherited diseases.
  • Certain anemias, such as thalassemia and aplastic anemia .

Symptoms of Hemochromatosis

Some common Symptoms of Hemochromatosis :

  • Abdominal pain .
  • Weight loss.
  • Weakness.
  • Joint pain.
  • Arthritis.
  • Loss of body hair.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Testicular atrophy.

Treatment of Hemochromatosis

  • Diet modification .
  • Iron supplements should be avoided.
  • Treatment of the resulting diseases or conditions.
  • Surgical arthroplasty is considered if joint destruction becomes severe despite medical therapy.
  • Patients should limit alcohol consumption and should not eat raw oysters.
  • Once diagnosed, hemochromatosis is treated by phlebotomy to rid the body of excess iron and to maintain normal iron stores.



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