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Iron Overload (cont.)

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How is hemochromatosis treated?

The most effective treatment for hemochromatosis is to reduce iron in the body by phlebotomy (withdrawal of blood from the arm veins). One unit of blood, which contains 250 mg of iron, usually is withdrawn every one to two weeks. Serum ferritin and transferrin saturation are checked every two to three months. Once ferritin levels are below 50 ng/ml and transferrin saturations are below 50%, the frequency of phlebotomies are reduced to every two to three months. When hemochromatosis is diagnosed early and is treated effectively, damage to the liver, heart, testicles, pancreas and joints can be prevented completely, and patients maintain normal health. In patients with established cirrhosis, effective treatment can improve the function of the heart, skin color, and diabetes. However, cirrhosis is irreversible and the risk of developing liver cancer remains.

The benefits of therapeutic phlebotomy in hemochromatosis are as follows:

  • It prevents the development of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer if the disease is discovered and treated early.
  • It improves liver function partially in patients who have already developed advanced cirrhosis.
  • It improves and/or completely resolves symptoms of weakness, liver pain, joint pain, and fatigue.
  • It improves function of the heart in patients with mild and early heart disease.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/30/2015


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