Hemochromatosis Treatment Overview
First steps to consider
- If you have signs of hemochromatosis (iron overload) like joint pain, fatigue, skin bronzing (darker areas), see a healthcare provider to get a diagnosis and discuss a treatment plan.
- Hemochromatosis can be treated with dietary changes, phlebotomy (therapeutic blood draws), and chelating agents (binders that help remove iron).
Go to the ER or call 911 if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Confusion, anxiety, or fear
- Loss of consciousness, seizure, or coma
- Chest pain
- Severe weakness or fainting
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Sudden, severe shortness of breath
- Coughing up white or pink, foamy mucus
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When to see a healthcare provider
Always see a healthcare provider, either your primary care doctor or a hematologist (blood disease specialist), if you have symptoms of hemochromatosis like skin bronzing (darker areas), fatigue, joint pain, and high blood pressure.
It’s very important to treat hemochromatosis right away because it can lead to serious complications, like congestive heart failure, liver damage, and arthritis. It can also cause reproductive problems like loss of menstruation and erectile dysfunction.
Hemochromatosis is diagnosed based on your symptoms and blood tests to measure your iron levels. Other tests may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other health problems. These include:
- Liver function tests to check for liver damage.
- An MRI, which can show liver changes caused by hemochromatosis
- Liver biopsy. If your doctor thinks you may have liver damage, they may remove a sample of your liver for analysis using a thin needle.
- Genetic testing to see if there are mutations in the HFE gene that may cause you to absorb too much iron from your diet
What to expect from your doctor visit
- Hemochromatosis is typically treated with phlebotomy (therapeutic blood draws). Generally, about a pint of blood is removed per session on a regular schedule to lower your body’s iron stores. Once your iron level is back to normal, you won’t need as many treatments.
- If you cannot be treated with phlebotomy, your doctor may prescribe medication called chelating agents. These bind to iron in your body and then are passed through your urine.
- If hemochromatosis has caused advanced liver disease, your provider may discuss if and when to consider a liver transplant.
- Monitoring for other possible complications, like heart failure and arthritis, will also be reviewed.
Prescription hemochromatosis medications
- Chelating agents: deferasirox (Exjade, Jadenu), desferoxamine (Desferal), deferiprone (Ferriprox)
Types of providers who treat hemochromatosis
- Your primary care provider can test for hemochromatosis and prescribe medication.
- Your care will likely be overseen by a hematologist, a type of doctor who specializes in blood disorders.
- If you have complications of hemochromatosis, you may need to see other specialists like a cardiologist (heart doctor), hepatologist (liver specialist), rheumatologist (joints and tissues doctor), among others.
Treating hemochromatosis at home
Always see a healthcare provider, either your primary care provider or a hematologist (blood disease specialist), to get a diagnosis. The main symptoms of hemochromatosis include skin bronzing (darker areas), high blood pressure, and cirrhosis.
There are no OTC medications that treat hemochromatosis. If symptoms are mild, your healthcare provider may recommend watchful waiting and dietary changes.
Tips for managing hemochromatosis
- When possible, drink tea or coffee with your meals. Both contain tannins, which can reduce iron absorption.
- Don’t take iron supplements or multivitamins with iron.
- Don’t take vitamin C supplements. Vitamin C enhances your body’s iron absorption.
- Avoid raw and undercooked shellfish. Hemochromatosis increases your risk of infections, and shellfish may contain bacteria that cause them.
- Get any vaccinations your doctor recommends, like hepatitis A and B vaccines.
- Avoid alcohol, which raises the risk of liver damage.
- Limit red meat. It contains the most easily absorbed form of iron.
- Don’t use cast iron cookware. The iron can go into your food.