Since July is National Hemochromatosis Screening Awareness Month, now would be a good time to learn about what it is and why it could become a danger for you or loved ones in your family. In a nutshell, hemochromatosis is a medical condition caused by an excess of iron in the bloodstream, and it can lead to some serious health issues. In Mount Washington and elsewhere, this condition can lead to diabetes, liver disease, arthritis, and even heart failure. The condition can have hereditary sources, in which case it is known as hereditary hemochromatosis, or it can be introduced to the body by having too many blood transfusions, excessive consumption of iron supplements, and diseases that tend to destroy the body’s red blood cells. Home care to prevent the worsening of this medical condition can often nullify any symptoms, or at the very least, make them much safer for the patient. Below, you can learn all about why it’s important to know about this condition, and what to do when it has been diagnosed.
Symptoms of hemochromatosis
Individuals afflicted by hereditary hemochromatosis can exhibit the attendant symptoms at any stage of life. However, the most common form of the condition will generally occur around the mid-life point for most people. Some of the most common observable symptoms include the following:
- bronzing of the skin – the bronze pigmentation is caused by the excessive amount of iron in the skin cells
- cirrhosis – this happens when normal liver cells get replaced by fibrous bands, and this can lead to liver damage, or in a worst-case scenario, liver failure
- hyperglycemia – this is otherwise known as high blood sugar, and will generally be characterized by nausea and vomiting, frequent urination, persistent thirst, and abnormal fatigue
- arthritis – the excessive amount of liver in the system can cause problems for the joints
- erectile dysfunction – this is one of the less common symptoms, but it has happened often enough for it to be a recognized symptom
- persistent fatigue – many people afflicted with hemochromatosis can’t shake the feeling of being fatigued all the time, even after a night of good rest.
Why you need to know about hemochromatosis
It may not sound like hemochromatosis is a very serious condition since it only amounts to having excessive iron in the system. But having all that extra iron in the body can lead to some very serious consequences, and that’s why you need to have an understanding of this medical condition. As with almost all other conditions and diseases, the earlier it’s spotted and treated, the better the chances for recovery and good health afterward. Someone who begins with hemochromatosis can end up having diabetes because the iron causes damage to the pancreas, which is responsible for producing insulin needed by your body. This can cause high blood pressure, and may even require the regular injection of insulin to recover the status quo.
It’s also possible for hemochromatosis to develop into liver cancer or to permanently damage the liver. This, in turn, will lead to all kinds of other health issues, all of which will require ongoing treatment. Two more potential effects are hypogonadism and hypopituitarism, the first of which is inadequate production of hormones in the ovaries or testicles, and the second is characterized by inadequate production of hormones by the pituitary gland. Both of these insufficiencies can cause enormous health issues for the afflicted person and must be treated by a qualified medical professional.
Cardiomyopathy is a condition where the heart muscle becomes damaged, and it can eventually lead to complete heart failure if not detected in time. This is another of the conditions that can be triggered by the excessive iron in the body, and once the damage occurs, it cannot usually be restored or recovered from. The heart can also be troubled with pericarditis, which is an inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart muscle, and this will be felt by the patient as some level of pain in the chest area. This can persist as long as the excess iron situation remains in effect in the body.
Finally, the hemochromatosis victim is also subject to a greater frequency of infections that invade the body. These will all have to be dealt with as they occur, and the patient must be extra vigilant to detect infection when it occurs, otherwise, some severe damage can occur to body tissue, and even worse results can be possible.
If you wait until hemochromatosis has developed into one of the diseases mentioned above, i.e. diabetes, heart failure, liver damage – these conditions cannot be reversed and must be dealt with indefinitely. However, if the condition is diagnosed in time, all symptoms can be reduced or even eliminated, and you can live a normal, happy life. One of the traditional treatment options is therapeutic phlebotomy, which amounts to extracting some amount of blood from the body periodically until the iron level approaches normal.
For individuals who are unable to withstand therapeutic phlebotomy, it may be possible to accomplish the same thing by taking special medications known as iron chelators. In effect, this medicine absorbs iron in the system and allows it to be eliminated through normal body processes. It goes without saying that a change of dietary habits must include reduced intake or elimination of iron supplements. Any of these treatments may be sufficient to restore good health and avoid any of the nasty consequences of advanced hemochromatosis.