Hereditary hemochromatosis is a genetic disease that leads to an excessive amount of iron in the body. It is more common in males, and symptoms of iron overload may not be apparent until after menopause in women. Women do not usually experience symptoms until after menopause which is due to the blood elimination that women’s bodies are subjected to every month as part of their menstruation. White people from North-European countries are more likely to get hereditary hemochromatosis which is easily diagnosed with an iron overload test.
What Is Iron Overload?
When your body has too much iron, it starts to store it in different organs which can be very dangerous if not treated in time. To help you treat iron overload, your doctor may recommend an iron overload test to check serum ferritin (SF). This test measures the amount of iron in the body. It is often repeated to ensure accuracy, as other conditions can cause elevated ferritin levels. There are several causes of iron overload, including blood transfusions, anaemia or liver conditions. Genetic testing may also reveal the cause of iron overload and that is why it is recommended to get tested if you have first degree relatives that suffer from this condition.
The causes of iron overload are largely unknown, but two mutations in the gene HFE are responsible for the condition. Although the condition is rare, it is important to understand the risks and complications of this disease.
A genetic mutation for hemolytic anaemia and too much iron consumption can cause an iron overload. In adults, iron overload tends to manifest later in life, but it can start as early as age 40 in some cases. In children, symptoms will appear sooner if there is a more severe mutation or an excessive iron load. Iron overload can cause organ damage, including damage to the heart, liver, and pancreas. Regardless of age and gender, iron overload disorders are chronic conditions and can affect everyone, and the most frightening part is that it can lead to death if not treated on time.
Symptoms of iron overload depend on the organs affected, but sometimes they can go unnoticed for long periods until they start to harm important organs and become life-threatening. Some of the most common symptoms are fatigue, skin colour changes, abdominal pain, joint pain, irregular menstruation, infertility, impotence, and irregular heart rhythm. Still, the symptoms a person with such a condition experiences depend on the organs affected but can be vague or nonexistent, that is why getting an iron overload test can be a life-saver, especially for people who already suffer from other severe health conditions.
In addition to increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, iron is also a dangerous substance for the liver. The overproduction of iron in the liver can lead to chronic diseases such as cirrhosis and cancer.
According to the most recent research, almost 10% of people of European ancestry have a hereditary hemochromatosis gene mutation. Fortunately, the disease can be treatable and most individuals with this condition have a normal life expectancy. If diagnosed early, iron overload is a manageable condition and with an appropriate diet and lifestyle, it is possible to improve a person’s quality of life even if he has a genetic condition like haemochromatosis.
Luckily, there are ways to reduce your iron level naturally, which can be combined with the medical treatments prescribed by medical specialists. Dietary modifications and specifically designed recipes are all options to help your body cope with iron overload. For best results, consult a doctor first for proper diagnosis or get an iron overload test yourself. It is very important to follow your doctor’s advice each step of the way if you have been diagnosed with this condition. And remember, you should avoid alcohol consumption as soon as possible if you suspect that you may have hemochromatosis, as alcohol can hurt your already damaged liver because of the extra quantity of iron that it stores.