There's no cure for haemochromatosis. But there are treatments that can reduce the amount of iron in your body.
Treatments can help relieve some of the symptoms. They can also reduce the risk of damage to organs such as the heart, liver and pancreas.
The treatment of choice and the most effective strategy for the management of Haemochromatosis is venesection (phlebotomy).
Venesection means the removal of blood, just like giving a blood donation.
Every unit of blood (500ml) removed contains about 250mg of iron. Your body will use up more iron to replace these red blood cells, helping to reduce the amount of iron in your body.
There are 2 main stages to treatment: induction and maintenance.
Your blood is removed, usually on a weekly basis until your iron levels are normal. This can sometimes take up to a year or more.
During this treatment your serum ferritin levels are monitored. Ferritin is a blood protein that contains iron. The results of these tests give a measure of your remaining iron stores.
Once the initial treatment is completed and the iron levels are back to normal then they are monitored every 3 months. As they start to rise again phlebotomy is recommended.
Diet and alcohol
You do not need to make any big changes to your diet if you have haemochromatosis.
You'll usually be advised to:
- have a generally healthy, balanced diet
- avoid breakfast cereals that have been 'fortified' with extra iron
- avoid taking iron and vitamin C supplements
- not to eat raw oysters and clams – these may contain bacteria that can cause serious infections if you have high iron levels
- avoid drinking excessive amounts of alcohol – this can increase the level of iron in your body and put extra strain on your liver
Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE