Hemochromatosis is a disorder which affects the way the human body metabolizes iron. It can be an inherited disorder or be acquired over time. When it is present, patients with this condition accumulate more iron than they need. Since the human body does not have the ability to remove excess iron, the end result is a buildup of this element within the tissues and organs until it reaches toxic levels.
If left untreated, several organs can either become dysfunctional or even fail. This includes the heart, liver, and pancreas. The hemochromatosis blood test will help to determine if Iron Storage Disease is present, either in its primary or hereditary forms, so a treatment plan can be developed to deal with the iron overload.
When To Ask About the Hemochromatosis Blood Test
What makes Iron Storage Disease such a tricky health condition is that not everyone who has hemochromatosis will have bothersome signs or symptoms. According to the NHLBI, as many as 50% of people with this disease will not have any initial symptoms. Even when asymptomatic at first, however, when the disease progresses, there will be a variety of symptoms that begin to appear and then will worsen over time.
Fatigue and weakness tend to be the two most common symptoms. Abdominal pain and joint pain may also be present, either chronically or acute and intermittent. Some patients may have increased blood glucose levels and even have their high iron levels trigger diabetes. Liver dysfunction may occur, a decrease sex drive may be present, and there may be changes in skin color noted.
Most men who are affected by Iron Storage Disease will become symptomatic between the ages of 30-50. For women, most will not experience any symptoms for several years after they have gone through menopause.
A Closer Look at the Hemochromatosis Blood Test
There are a variety of tests that are conducted when the hemochromatosis blood test is ordered. This is because a number of organs must be evaluated in addition to the overall iron levels that are contained in the blood. Here is a brief list of the various blood tests that may be ordered by a treating doctor.
Serum Iron Test. This is used to check on the iron levels that are in the blood.
TIBC Test. This measures amount much iron can be bound to blood proteins so that transferrin availability can be testing.
Serum Ferritin. This test is used to evaluate the iron stores contained within the body.
Liver Panel. This group of tests will help to determine the health of the liver.
Genetic Tests. If there is suspected hereditary hemochromatosis, then these tests can help to create a more specific picture of current and future health risks.
Sometimes even with all of these tests as part of the hemochromatosis blood test, the results may be inconclusive. When this occurs, a liver biopsy may be ordered to determine how much iron has accumulated within the organ and how much damage to it may have occurred.
What Do My Hemochromatosis Blood Test Results Mean?
If you have normal iron levels, then no treatment may be necessary. This may be true even if genetic testing confirms the presence of hereditary hemochromatosis. Low levels of iron may be treated as a normal result, though in some patients, the anemia may need to be treated with additional iron.
A positive test result is the most concerning from this particular blood test. There is no cure for hereditary hemochromatosis, but it can be managed. Secondary hemochromatosis can often be treated with simple lifestyle changes. If ineffective, then the treatment for the secondary form of this disease is the same as the hereditary form. Doctors will remove a unit of blood and in severe cases, this may initially occur 1-2x per week.
Once controlled, a unit of blood is then removed only a few times per year to help manage internal iron levels. In the United States, blood from patients with hemochromatosis has been approved as donor blood.
The only time hemochromatosis becomes a life-threatening medical issue is if it is left untreated. If you are experiencing the bothersome signs and symptoms of this disease, then discuss the pros and cons of the hemochromatosis blood test with your doctor. Use this guide to ask questions, get the answers you need, and together you and your doctor can then create a treatment plan which may be able to improve your health.