Iron Overload and Haemochromatosis

What is iron overload?

Iron overload is excess iron in the body either because the person has had repeated blood transfusions, usually in the course of treatment required for transfusion dependent anaemias, or in patients who have a genetic predisposition to accumulate iron from their diet – known as genetic haemochromatosis.

What is genetic haemochromatosis?

Genetic haemochromatosis describes a group of disorders where iron is absorbed in excess from the gut and then stored around the body. These disorders are particularly common in those of Celtic descent though they do occur in other populations. As it usually requires an abnormal gene from each parent to suffer with the condition, people often do not realise they have it until they fall ill with the effects of the iron overload.

What are the effects of iron overload?

The effects of iron overload are serious and can be life threatening. There is no natural system to rid the body of excess iron. Excess iron will deposit in the organs for example the liver causing cirrhosis; the heart causing abnormal rhythms and heart failure; the hormone producing organs causing infertility and the pancreas causing diabetes.  So it is really important that people with iron overload have their iron removed.

How can the excess iron be removed?

There are two ways of doing this. The first is using medicines called chelation agents, these aer medications that taken the iron out of your blood. The other is  physically using venesection, where blood is taken out of the arm much like when you donate blood.

Chelation is what is needed in anaemic patients for bone marrow disorders as they cannot spare any blood. Venesection can often be used in people with genetic haemochromatosis and in those people whose transfusion dependent anaemia has been cured e.g.following a bone marrow transplant or curative chemotherapy as these people can make blood properly. Here people can then use the existing iron stores to replace the blood that has been taken out during the venesection.  Chelation can also be used in people where venesection is normally recommended in people  who cannot tolerate venesection for example if they have heart disease.

Iron Overload and HaemochromatosisWhat does does Dr Trompeter offer?

  • Assessment and diagnosis of iron overload
  • Treatment of iron overload: venesection and chelation
  • Monitoring of iron overload treatment
  • Genetic idenitification of genetic haemochromatosis or carrier state in people with suggestive symptoms, blood tests or family history.
Wellington Hospital Harley Street Hospital