Hemochromatosis – When the Body Can’t Get the Iron Out

Most of us know that not having enough iron in the blood results in disorders like anemia, fatigue, low energy… I first became aware of “iron-poor blood,” or anemia, when I was a kid watching TV.

Every so often there would be a commercial aimed at older people for a product called Geritol. It promised to give a person more energy, yadda yadda yadda. But what happens if the body produces too much iron? Hemochromatosis is the answer to that question. This occurs when the body absorbs more iron than it can use? The iron begins to accumulate in the liver, heart, and pancreas. Ultimately, it causes these organs to fail.

Some people inherit hemochromatosis (primary), while others acquire the disease (secondary) as a result of thalassemia, liver disease, blood transfusions, or paradoxically, anemia. Symptoms, as in so many other rare diseases, mimics many other diseases, but they include stomach pain, weakness, fatigue, and joint pain.

For the one million Americans who have hemochromatosis, the onset in males usually occurs in their late 20s and early 30s. For women, it’s a little different. The onset usually occurs 10 to 15 years after menopause, hysterectomy, or cessation of birth control pills.

A Texas woman named Andrea Joyner underwent a double transplant. Both her heart and liver were replaced because of her chronic hemochromatosis. Happily, she is doing well, and her health is greatly improved. Others aren’t as lucky because they aren’t properly diagnosed, which means they aren’t properly treated.

Erica Zahn

Erica Zahn

Erica Zahn is passionate about raising awareness of rare diseases and disorders and helping people connect with the resources that may ease their journey. Erica has been a caregiver, and is a patient, herself, so she completely relates to the rare disease community--on a deeply personal level.

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