Treatment for Hemochromatosis

Treatment for hemochromatosis usually involves a procedure called phlebotomy. In this treatment, a certain unit of blood (e.g., a pint or about 500 mL) is withdrawn from the patient regularly (e.g., once or twice per week) for several months to a year or longer. This procedure, which is similar to blood donation, reduces the level of iron in the body by about 25 grams (g).

During the course of treatment, regular blood tests are used to monitor iron levels. Once normal levels are achieved, phlebotomy usually is performed about every 3 months to maintain these levels. If treatment is started before tissue damage occurs, organ failure and other complications associated with hemochromatosis (e.g., arthritis, liver cancer, heart damage) usually can be prevented.

Patients who have severe anemia (low red blood cell count) or hypoproteinuria (low level of protein in the blood) may be unable to undergo phlebotomy. In these patients, chelating agents (e.g., deferoxamine), which bind to iron, may be injected under the skin (i.e., subcutaneous injection). This treatment removes 10 to 20 milligrams (mg) of iron per day.

Many patients also require treatment for conditions associated with hemochromatosis, such as arthritis and diabetes. In most cases, treatments are similar to conventional therapies for these conditions.

A number of specialists may be involved in the treatment of patients who have hemochromatosis and associated conditions. These physicians include the following:

  • Cardiologist (specializes in conditions that affect the heart)
  • Endocrinologist (specializes in metabolic disorders of the endocrine system)
  • Gastroenterologist (specializes in disorders of the gastrointestinal [GI] tract)
  • Hematologist (specializes in blood disorders)
  • Hepatologist (specializes in liver disorders)
  • Rheumatologist (specializes in disorders of the musculoskeletal system, such as arthritis)

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 29 Feb 2008

Last Modified: 07 Sep 2010