Invited Speaker at the 7th International World Congress of Diabetes and Endocrinology Lisbon, Portugal. July 17, 2023

Hemochromatosis: A Lesser Known Metabolic Disorder

Hemochromatosis: A Lesser Known Metabolic Disorder

Iron is an extremely vital mineral, but if you’re unable to absorb it, you need special care to avoid serious health complications. Hemochromatosis is a lesser-known metabolic disorder that causes too much iron to build up in the body. 

Patients with iron overload disorder should see Dr. Sam Morayati, MD, a specialist in metabolic disorders. As an endocrinologist trusted for more than 30 years, Dr. Morayati has extensive experience helping patients manage both common and rare disorders of the metabolism. 

Over time, hemochromatosis can cause severe damage to your organs if left untreated. Early intervention helps keep you healthy and protect your organs. 

What is hemochromatosis?

In hemochromatosis, there’s an imbalance in the absorption, use, and storage of iron in the body. Under normal circumstances the body tightly regulates the amount of iron you absorb from food and supplements. 

This mechanism doesn’t work properly in patients with hemochromatosis. As a result, the body absorbs excess iron that accumulates in several organs, particularly in the liver. This causes liver inflammation, which can lead to an enlarged liver, cirrhosis, cancer, and even liver failure over time.

Iron overload disorder is classified into two main types. Hereditary hemochromatosis is the main type caused by a genetic mutation, while another underlying condition is responsible for secondary hemochromatosis. 

What causes hemochromatosis?

Hereditary hemochromatosis is caused by an HFE gene mutation — a gene regulates the amount of iron the body absorbs. In the United States, most people with hereditary hemochromatosis have two copies of an HFE gene — one from their mother and one from their father. A person who gets just one defective gene won’t necessarily have iron overload, but will be a carrier and most likely absorb more iron than normal.

If both parents are carriers, their child has a 1 in 4 chance of inheriting two defective genes — one from each parent. Some persons with two copies of the C282Y mutation, however, never develop symptoms.

Issues such as oral iron, blood transfusions, chronic liver disease, hepatitis C, and other liver problems can cause secondary hemochromatosis.

Signs and symptoms of hemochromatosis

Hemochromatosis can be difficult to diagnose. Symptoms are often mild or fail to appear until middle age or after menopause in women. 

Some common symptoms include:

Symptoms are likely to occur as the disorder progresses. 

Treating hemochromatosis

With regular blood tests and lifelong treatment, most patients with hemochromatosis lead normal lives. Here’s how iron overload is treated: 

Phlebotomy

Phlebotomy is the most common approach to treating hemochromatosis. It involves removing iron from the body by drawing blood, usually 1 pint at a time. Typically, this needs to be done on a weekly basis until levels return to normal. 

Once you reach normal iron levels, you need to give blood usually every 2-4 months to keep levels within normal range. This eliminates excess iron and protects your organs. 

Chelation

Iron chelation therapy entails taking drugs orally or intravenously to remove excess iron from the body. Medications may include a drug that binds extra iron before it is excreted by the body.

Although doctors do not typically prescribe it as a first-line treatment for hemochromatosis, it may be appropriate for some patients.

Dietary modification

Making dietary changes to limit iron rich foods can help alleviate symptoms. Dietary modifications may include:

Additionally, it is wise to limit alcohol consumption to protect the liver. 

Hemochromatosis treatment is safe and effective. Burlington Medical Center Specialists provide patients with exceptional care that you can count on. To get started, call our Burlington, North Carolina, office today to schedule a visit with Dr. Morayati. Existing and prospective patients can also book online.

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