How is hereditary hemochromatosis treated?
The treatment for hemochromatosis is a simple process called phlebotomy. In phlebotomy, blood is drawn from the veins in the arm — similar to donating blood at a blood bank. Removing blood removes the iron it contains and is the most effective means of getting rid of excess iron. The blood cells removed are quickly replaced by new ones.
Treatment depends on the patient’s iron levels. Usually, a pint of blood is drawn once or twice a month until the iron levels are within the normal range. This process can take months.
Once the iron levels are stable, the patient begins maintenance therapy, which involves drawing blood several times a year for the rest of the patient's life. Yearly blood tests from the patient will determine how often blood needs to be drawn.
People with hemochromatosis should also reduce the amount of iron they get from their diet. They should avoid iron-fortified processed foods, iron pills, and vitamins and supplements that contain iron. They should also avoid raw seafood and excess alcohol.
What are the complications of hereditary hemochromatosis?
If hemochromatosis is not found early and treated, it can affect vital organs and lead to serious complications, including:
- Enlarged liver
- Cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
- Liver cancer
- Liver failure
- Diabetes (from damage to the pancreas)
- Irregular heartbeat
- Enlarged heart
- Congestive heart failure
- Early menopause
- Damage to adrenal glands
- Enlarged spleen