The inherited form of haemochromatosis is now considered a relatively common genetic disorder: in western countries it affects about one in 300 people, mostly people of Northern European and particularly Celtic backgrounds, and is more common in men than women.
Diagnosis can be difficult as many of the symptoms of haemochromatosis are a sign of other conditions.
Several diagnostic tests are possible:
- Transferrin saturation: this tests whether transferrin, one of the proteins in the blood, is bound up with abnormally large amounts of iron.
- Serum ferritin: the ferritin protein stores iron in tissues and small amounts are normally found in blood serum. If iron starts accumulating in the body, serum ferritin levels also tend to rise.
- Genetic testing for the mutant HFE gene using blood is the definitive test for haemochromatosis and can also be used to identify family members at risk.
Once a positive diagnosis of haemochromatosis has been made, liver function tests and perhaps a liver biopsy can be done to find out just how much damage the liver has sustained.
How is haemochromatosis treated?
Haemochromatosis treatment is straightforward. It involves taking blood a pint at a time to deplete the body’s iron stores in a procedure called venesection.
A typical schedule could involve taking a pint of blood each week until serum ferritin levels are at the lower end of the normal range.
Further bleeding is then needed a few times a year to prevent iron levels building up again: transferrin saturation and serum ferritin tests are used to plan the schedule for each patient.
Treatment will help with symptoms such as fatigue and abdominal pain, and prevent further organ damage, but cannot usually reverse complications such as diabetes or cirrhosis.
These may require further specialist treatment.
People with haemochromatosis are often advised to reduce their iron intake as far as possible by:
- Only eating small quantities of red meat and liver.
- Avoiding vitamin or iron supplements or foods fortified with iron.
- Not using iron pans and cooking pots.
- Reducing vitamin C intake.
- Minimising alcohol intake as this can increase iron absorption from food.
- Drinking tea and dairy products with meals can block iron absorption to some extent.
Why choose The London Clinic
Excellence in one place
We operate as teams of experts with world-class resources dedicated to maintaining the highest standards of medical care. You are surrounded by the latest treatments and advice with everything you need to get back to your best health.
Personal care, every time
Exceptional patient care is a way of life for us. Our nurses, clinicians and support teams are dedicated to the care of a very small number of patients, so have more time for you. They’ll be with you every step of the way, tailoring your care around you and giving the peace-of-mind that comes with knowing you’re in the best hands.
We work together as one to guide you through each step of your experience, with complexities unravelled and answers readily to hand. Your personal treatment plan will be laid out for you, with all the details taken care of so you can focus on you.
What's included in your package?
Choosing The London Clinic means your treatment plan will be laid out for you, with all the details taken care of so you can focus on you.
Your treatment package will include:
- Enhanced pre-admission assessment
- Your treatment with our complete care team at your fingertips
- Personalised aftercare and follow-up
We want you to be in control of your health. That’s why we also offer optional services such as comprehensive recovery packages and extra touches for you to choose from during your stay with us.
How to pay
- You can use private medical insurance (PMI) to access this treatment. We work with all major PMI providers in the UK and many internationally
- You can pay for yourself (self-pay)
- If you’re paying for yourself, we have finance options available with Chrysalis