Iron overload or haemochromatosis is a condition in which the human body stores too much iron. A condition known as hereditary hemochromatosis is a common genetic cause of iron overload. This condition is caused by a mutation of the HFE gene, which controls how much iron the body absorbs and stores. In people with hemochromatosis, excess iron is absorbed by the body and is stored in the major organs. Over time, this excess iron can damage the organs and cause chronic illnesses such as heart failure, diabetes and cirrhosis. A quick way to diagnose iron abnormalities is with an iron overload test.
The Role Of Iron in the Human Body
Iron is essential to human health. Most of the iron in the body is used for tissues with high proliferative capacity, like the blood. The human body’s red blood cells are constantly recycling and reabsorbing iron. Nevertheless, iron in the body is not fully used, and when it is produced in excess, it gets stored and causes severe damage to the human body. Males are more prone to develop this condition. In the case of females, excess iron is lost through processes like menstruation, bleeding, and breastfeeding.
A deficiency in iron, however is also dangerous for the human body. During pregnancy, a low level of iron may affect a baby’s development. Mothers who have low iron levels during pregnancy are at an increased risk for premature delivery. Iron is also necessary for healthy cell growth and differentiation. Although iron is essential to human health, up to 80% of the population may be iron-deficient. Iron deficiency is especially common among pre-menopausal women and active men. A low iron level may impair mental function and weaken the immune system.
Apart from providing energy, iron is also required for producing blood. About two-thirds of the body’s iron is found in red blood cells, which carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. It also contributes to the production of muscle cells and the function of various hormones. If an individual is iron-deficient, the bone marrow will produce fewer blood cells and the cells will be smaller.
Under normal conditions, the intestines in our bodies absorb just the right amount of iron from the meals we consume. But in the case of people with iron overload disorder, the body absorbs too much, and it has no way to get rid of it in a natural manner. As a result, the body stores the excess iron in joints and in organs like your liver and pancreas.
The symptoms of iron overload vary based on the organs affected by the excess iron. Some people experience fatigue, skin changes, joint pain, and irregular menstruation. People may also experience irregular heart rhythms and impotence. Fortunately, treatments for iron overload can help prevent complications. However, it is important to understand what iron overload looks like because it can be life-threatening. To avoid getting iron stored in excessive amounts, it is best to consult a physician and get an iron overload test.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Although this condition is typically diagnosed in people over 40, symptoms of iron overload are not always present and easy to spot. This can be dangerous because if left untreated, it can lead to kidney failure, heart attack, and blindness, especially if the diagnosed person suffers from other severe conditions. Getting tested early is very important, as this allows doctors to take aggressive measures before irreversible damage is done. In many cases, iron overload can be managed with treatment that doesn’t involve medications. It’s also possible to reverse the condition if it’s detected early enough. If the symptoms persist or are agravated, it is crucial to see a doctor as soon as possible.
What Is The Treatment For This Condition?
Treatment depends on the severity of the hemochromatosis and the symptoms. In most cases, a doctor will request you to take an iron overload test to determine the amount of iron stored in the body. This includes measuring serum ferritin levels, which are a good indicator of abnormal iron quantities. If you suspect you have it, you can also order a blood test yourself to find out if your body has an excess of iron.
If you are diagnosed with the condition, doctors treat it by removing blood from your body on a regular basis in order to get rid of the extra amount of iron in the blood. It is a similar process to blood donation. The goal is to achieve normal iron levels in the blood circulation, which is a long process and requires regularity.