It’s Haemochromatosis National Awareness Day
If you don’t know about haemochromatosis, here are some interesting facts…
It’s a genetic disorder that causes the body to absorb an excessive amount of iron from the diet. Lack of iron can cause anaemia, but excessive iron is toxic. The body has few ways of disposing of unwanted iron, so it builds up in tissues, causing damage and disease.
1 in 5 Irish people are a haemochromatosis carrier. However, haemochromatosis tends to be under-diagnosed, partly because its symptoms are similar to those caused by a range of other illnesses. And both sexes are at risk.
Women tend to develop the condition later in life because of blood loss during childbearing years, but some women will develop symptoms at an early age.
The good news is that if haemochromatosis is detected before damage occurs, it can be easily treated and is no barrier to a happy and successful life.
The simple and effective treatment consists of regular removal of blood. Known as venesection therapy, or phlebotomy, the procedure is the same as for blood donors. Every pint of blood removed contains a quarter of a gram of iron. The body then uses some of the excess stored iron to make new red blood cells.
Venesection will usually be performed once a week, depending on the degree of iron overload, and treatment may be needed for two years or more. During the course of treatment, the serum ferritin levels are monitored, indicating the size of the remaining iron stores. Treatment should usually continue until the serum ferritin level reaches 20µg/l (indicating minimal or absent iron stores).
For more information, visit the Irish Haemochromatosis Association’s website.