Receiving a proper diagnosis and treatment for fibromyalgia can sometimes prove difficult. This is because no diagnostic test is available to diagnose this syndrome, fibromyalgia also mimics a number of other related conditions. Therefore, some people seeking treatment for fibromyalgia may actually have hemochromatosis. Hemochromatosis results from an accumulation of iron in the body that can produce similar symptoms caused by fibromyalgia.
What is Hemochromatosis?
Hemochromatosis is a type of an iron overload disease where your body retains more iron than it needs. Foods rich in iron include red meat and iron-fortified breads and cereals. Upon absorption, iron becomes a part of the hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen from the lungs to the all body tissues. A healthy person usually, absorbs 10 percent of the iron found in foods. But a person with hemochromatosis will often absorb 30 percent of the iron that enters their system, creating an excess of this mineral. Since the body has no way of eliminating the build up of iron, it stores the excessive iron in the body tissues, liver, heart and pancreas. If left untreated, hemochromatosis could lead to organ failure.
Types of Hemochromatosis
Mainly four types of hemochromatosis exist. These types include:
- Primary hemochromatosis: also known as hereditary hemochromatosis
- Secondary hemochromatosis
- Juvenile hemochromatosis: affects adolescents and young adults between the ages 15 and 30 and causes liver and heart diseases.
- Neonatal hemochromatosis: occurs when excessive iron leads to liver failure in infants
Causes of Hemochromatosis
All four types of hemochromatosis result from different causes. Primary or hereditary hemochromatosis results from a defective HFE gene, the gene that monitors the amount of iron absorbed by the body. A person who inherits this defective gene from both parents will have hemochromatosis. But, if the gene is inherited from one parent, the person will be a carrier of the disease, and may still have a slightly higher than normal absorption of iron. Secondary hemochromatosis is mainly caused by anemia and or a high consumption of alcohol. While, juvenile and neonatal hemochromatosis manifest from a mutation in a gene called hemojuvelin.
Hereditary hemochromatosis is a common genetic disorder in the United States mainly affecting Caucasians of Northern European heritage, however other ethnic groups can also develop hemochromatosis. The prevalence of hemochromatosis in the United States’ Caucasian population is 0.5 percent, that is five people out of 1, 000 carry two copies of the defective HFE gene. Although both men and women can inherit the disease, hemochromatosis in women is less common. Men are more likely to be affected, and at a younger age.
Symptoms of Hemochromatosis
Some of the common symptoms of hemochromatosis include:
- Joint pain
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of libido
- Heart problems
If hemochromatosis is left untreated it could lead to arthritis, organ damage and abnormalities, early menopause, a poor functioning thyroid gland, and discoloration of the skin.
If you suspect you have hemochromatosis, your doctor can check by performing a variety of tests. These tests include:
- Transferrin saturation test: to determine how much iron is bound to the hemoglobin in the red.
- Ferritin test: reveals the level of iron in the liver
- Special blood test to screen for a defective HFE gene: if either of the initial tests show abnormally high levels of iron in the body
Treatment for hemochromatosis is fairly easy and simple. The most common treatment used to reduce iron levels in the body is called phlebotomy. Phlebotomy requires the patient to donate blood once or twice a week for several months or longer, until the blood ferritin levels lower.
After, the iron level is lowered, your doctor or specialist will start you on a maintenance therapy. This involves donating a pint of blood every 2 to 4 months to maintain the low level of iron.
By treating hemochromatosis, you reduce the risk of damaging your organs by the build up of iron. However, if hemochromatosis is treated after inflicting other organs, you may want to receive treatments from a specialized hemochromatosis center. Your doctor will be able to locate one for you and other treatments that you may need. People with liver damage should avoid the consumption of alcohol and raw seafood to prevent future liver damage. In general, if you have hemochromatosis you should at all times avoid taking iron and vitamin C supplements.