What is hemochromatosis? It is an inherited disorder in which the body absorbs more iron than it needs with no way of getting rid of the excess. The iron slowly accumulates, beginning with infancy, for 20, 30, or more years and does damage to the liver, heart, pancreas, other hormonal glands, and joints. It is the most common genetic disease, is inherited from both parents, and affects more than 1,600,000 Americans, most of whom remain undiagnosed.
If untreated, affected individuals will most likely develop considerable disabilities and may die prematurely. Early symptoms are often vague and nonspecific; they include fatigue, abdominal pain or discomfort, weight loss, joint pain, and often a tan to the skin that is not due to sun exposure. Symptoms of advanced Hemochromaosis usually appear after 40 years of age and can include arthritis, heart problems, cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, decreased sexual drive, impotence, and early menopause.
A diagnosis can only be made by specialized blood tests that are available in clinical laboratories and hospitals. If you have any of these symptoms, or have a “blood” relative with the disorder, you may want to discuss this with your physician and request a screening test.
The treatment for the condition consists of phlebotomy therapy (removing a pint of blood, similar to donating) to eliminate the extra iron from the body. By early detection and treatment, many complications of hemochromatosis can be prevented, and some conditions can be improved.
Information provided by the Crockett Resource Center for Independent Living, 1020 Loop 304 East, Crockett, Texas, 936-544-2811.