...less medical jargon in a 'Quick Glance' format!
Doctors can treat hemochromatosis safely and effectively by removing blood from your body on a regular basis, just as if you were donating blood. But in this case, the goal is to reduce your iron levels to normal. The amount of blood drawn depends on your age, your overall health and the severity of iron overload. Some people need many phlebotomies to achieve normal iron levels.
Initially, you may have a pint of blood taken once or twice a week — usually in a hospital or your doctor's office. This process shouldn't be uncomfortable. While you recline in a chair, a needle is inserted into a vein in your arm. The blood flows from the needle into a tube that's attached to a blood bag. Depending on your veins and the consistency of your blood, the time needed to remove a pint of blood can range from 10 to 30 minutes. Once your iron levels have returned to normal, you may only need to have blood drawn four times a year.
Donating your blood
Until recently, blood drawn from people with hemochromatosis was discarded. But in 1999, the Food and Drug Administration ruled that hemochromatosis blood could be donated to blood banks that applied to the FDA for a variance. You can contact a blood bank in your area to see whether it participates in this program. Or check the American Hemochromatosis Society Web site for more information.
What you can expect from treatment
Treating hemochromatosis before damage to your organs has occurred prevents serious complications such as liver disease, heart disease and diabetes. If you already have one of these conditions, phlebotomy may slow the progression of the disease, and in some cases even reverse it. People with cirrhosis are often monitored for liver cancer with an abdominal ultrasound and an alpha-fetoprotein blood test every six months.
. . . What you can do
You can't prevent hemochromatosis, but if you have the disease, the following measures may help:
Avoid iron supplements and multivitamins containing iron These can increase your iron levels even more. It's also best to avoid a diet high in iron-rich foods, such as red meat, dried peas and beans, and iron-enriched breads, cereals and pastas.
Avoid taking vitamin C supplements, especially with food Vitamin C increases absorption of iron. Try to drink vitamin C-rich juices, such as orange juice, between meals. Whole fruits and vegetables that contain vitamin C are fine.
Avoid alcohol Alcohol and iron combine to cause more liver damage.
Avoid eating raw shellfish People with hemochromatosis are susceptible to infections, especially those caused by certain bacteria in raw shellfish.