Iron Overload and Hemochromatosis: Treatment
Hemochromatosis can be treated simply and successfully. The treatment,
called phlebotomy (pronounced “fle-bot-o-me”), removes blood to lower the
amount of iron in the body. The treatment is similar to giving blood and
is the best way to treat the disease.
If phlebotomy treatment is started before too much iron has built up in
the body, it can stop many of the serious problems of hemochromatosis.
- If you have no organ damage and get proper care, you can expect to
live a normal life.
- If you already have organ damage, treatment can stop additional
damage, but it cannot reverse damage that has already started.
- Even if you have developed serious problems, treatment can lessen many
symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Important things to know about phlebotomy treatment for hemochromatosis:
- Drink plenty of water, milk, or fruit juices both before and after the
- Avoid vigorous physical activity for 24 hours after your phlebotomy
- Be sure to keep your phlebotomy appointments as directed by your
The phlebotomy treatment consists of two phases: an “iron reduction”
phase and the long-term maintenance phase.
Iron Reduction Phase
In the iron reduction phase, a health care professional removes about one
pint of whole blood, usually once or twice a week.
This phase usually lasts until all of the extra iron stored in your body
has been removed. It can take three months to one year, but the time varies
from person to person. Age, gender, the cause of the iron overload, and
severity of symptoms all affect how long this phase takes. During this
phase, your doctor checks your hemoglobin and serum ferritin levels.
Long-term Maintenance Phase
Once the extra iron has been taken out, your doctor will set up a long-term
maintenance program to make sure you keep a normal amount of iron in your
How often a person needs phlebotomy during this phase varies based on the
severity of the symptoms. During this phase, your doctor continues to check
your hemoglobin and your serum ferritin levels.
|Hemoglobin is a protein that is a
found in red blood cells; about 75% of the body’s iron is bound
to hemoglobin which is involved in oxygen transport from the
lungs to the rest of the body.
Regular phlebotomy treatment keeps the amount of iron in your body at a
normal level. A normal amount of iron is between 25 and 50 ng/mL (nanograms
- Men usually need to have 3 to 4 pints of blood taken out each year
(about once every 3 months) to maintain this level.
- Women may need to have 1 to 2 pints of blood taken out each year
(about once every 6 months) to maintain this level.
- Some people, especially older people, may not need to have any more
treatments, but they should still have their serum ferritin level checked
at least once a year.
If you have hemochromatosis, you should have your serum ferritin level
checked at least once a year. Doing so can help keep your iron level within
the normal range and avoid the serious problems caused by too much iron.
Many patients and their doctors ask if it is safe for people with
hemochromatosis to give blood. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
has stated that blood from hemochromatosis patients can be used for people
needing blood if the facility where the blood is donated meets the following
- The blood collection center cannot charge a fee for collecting the
- The blood center must apply to the FDA to be exempt from the existing
For a list of organizations approved to accept blood from patients with
Collection of Blood and Blood Products from Patients with Hemochromatosis.
For answers to other questions about blood donation from patients with
hemochromatosis, try the following patient resource:
|Most people with hemochromatosis
should be checked at least once a year to be sure that their
iron level is within the normal range. If the iron level is too
high, phlebotomy treatments are needed to keep extra iron from
building up in the body.
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