High level of iron in the blood, or what is called hemochromatosis, is a disease that is often hereditary in which the body stores a high percentage of iron, which causes harm to the body, especially the heart, liver and pancreas, and this disease cannot be avoided, but early diagnosis and treatment can protect Organs from harm, learn with us the most important causes of high iron content in the blood.
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What are the causes of high iron content in the blood?
There are two types of hemochromatosis that causes high iron in the blood, and they have different causes.
1 – Primary hemochromatosis
It is also called hereditary or classic hemochromatosis. Heredity is the main cause of this disease, as it results from a mutation in the gene responsible for controlling the amount of iron that the body absorbs from the food we eat. This mutation is transmitted from parents to their children and is often inherited from both parents. It causes the body to absorb high levels of iron.
If you inherit two abnormal genes, you will likely develop hemochromatosis and often pass this mutation to your children, but not everyone who inherits two genes develops problems related to the high iron level in the body caused by hemochromatosis.
If you only inherit one abnormal gene, you are unlikely to develop hemochromatosis, but even so you are a carrier of the gene mutation and can pass the mutation to your children, but your children will not develop the disease unless they also inherit another abnormal gene from the other parent. .
2- Secondary hemochromatosis
Secondary hemochromatosis appears as a result of certain medical conditions or medical treatments, causing an overload of iron in the body. The main conditions that cause secondary hemochromatosis:
- Anemia (low number of red cells in the blood).
- Taking excessive amounts of iron supplements or taking excessive amounts of iron injections.
- Dialysis frequently over a long period of time.
- Certain diseases that affect the liver, such as hepatitis C or fatty liver disease.
Factors that increase the risk of developing primary or hereditary hemochromatosis
The main factors that increase your risk of developing primary or hereditary hemochromatosis are:
- Having two copies of the mutated HFE gene: This is the most dangerous factor in increasing the risk of inherited hemochromatosis.
- Injury of a member of your family with primary hemochromatosis: If you have a first-degree relative (i.e. one of your parents or siblings) with this disease, this increases your risk of developing it.
- Men are more susceptible to infection than women: Signs of hereditary hemochromatosis often appear at an early age in men more than women, because women lose large amounts of iron during menstruation or during pregnancy, where the risk of this disease increases in postmenopausal women. Or in the event of a hysterectomy.
- Your ancestry: People of northern European ancestry are more at risk of developing hemochromatosis than others, while this risk is lower for people of Asian, Spanish and African descent.
Among the other most important factors that increase the risk of secondary hemochromatosis are alcoholism and heavy use of alcohol, in addition to having a family history of:
- Heart attacks.
- Erectile dysfunction .
- Some liver diseases.
Why is high iron content in the blood so dangerous?
High iron level is toxic to the body and it specifically affects the heart, liver and pancreas, so failure to treat and control high iron can ultimately lead to death. Where high iron can cause:
- Having a heart attack.
While an elevated level of iron in the liver can cause:
- Cirrhosis of the liver.
- Liver cancer.
- Liver failure.
In addition, a general high level of iron in the body can lead to:
- Having diabetes.
- Problems with the spleen, gallbladder, or all of the adrenal, pituitary, or thyroid glands.
- Problems with the reproductive system in both women and men. In men, it causes erectile dysfunction, while for women it can cause premature menopause.
- Skin color may be dull or gray.
What are the symptoms of hemochromatosis?
Symptoms do not appear in all people with hemochromatosis, as it is possible for a person to be infected without knowing and without showing any symptoms, while others may suffer from distressing symptoms. In general, symptoms do not usually appear until the patient reaches middle age, and these symptoms may include:
- Feeling very tired.
- General weakness in the body.
- Heart palpitations or an irregular heartbeat.
- Pain in the joints of the index and middle finger.
- Joint pain in general.
- Stomach pain.
- Unexplained weight loss.
How is hemochromatosis diagnosed?
If the doctor feels that you may have hemochromatosis, the examination will begin with the following procedures:
- You will first be asked to ask your parents whether your family has a history of this disease.
- They will ask you if you are taking an iron supplement as a pill or if you are taking an injection.
- He or she will also ask you if you are taking a vitamin C supplement, as it increases iron absorption in the body.
- The doctor will examine your joints to see if you are experiencing pain in them.
- He or she will also listen to your heartbeat if it is regular or not.
- He or she will check your skin tone.
- Finally, he will apply pressure near your liver to test for pain.
What tests does a doctor order to diagnose hemochromatosis?
To confirm an accurate diagnosis of hemochromatosis, your doctor will usually order the following tests:
- A blood test to measure the amount of iron in the blood.
- Genetic tests to confirm if you have the hemochromatosis genes.
- Liver biopsy, that is, the doctor takes a sample of the liver with a needle and studies it under a microscope.
- And finally an MRI.
What is the treatment method for hemochromatosis?
It is very necessary to monitor the level of iron in the body and treat the symptoms resulting from its high, to avoid damage to the body’s organs and functions, and the most important treatment measures:
- Adequate diet: People with hemochromatosis should refrain from consuming iron supplements of all kinds, in addition to this, the doctor may ask you to avoid foods rich in iron as well as those rich in vitamin C, and finally he will ask you to stay away from alcohol because it is harmful to the liver.
- Treatment with drugs: There are special medicines that work to get rid of excess iron from the body, and they are taken either as oral pills or in the form of needles.
- The third treatment is provided by the doctor, as he uses a special needle and tube to extract blood and get rid of excess iron. The doctor performs this procedure frequently and asks the patient to perform regular blood tests to monitor the level of iron in the blood.
Finally, if the hemochromatosis is caused by another disease, this pathology must be treated first.
Hemochromatosis: symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic website