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How Is Hemochromatosis Treated?

Treatments for hemochromatosis include therapeutic phlebotomy (fleh-BOT-o-me), iron chelation (ke-LAY-shun) therapy, dietary changes, and treatment for complications.

The goals of treating hemochromatosis include:

  • Reducing the amount of iron in your body to normal levels
  • Preventing or delaying organ damage from iron overload
  • Treating complications of the disease
  • Maintaining a normal amount of iron in your body for the rest of your life

Therapeutic Phlebotomy

Therapeutic phlebotomy is a procedure that removes blood (and iron) from your body. A needle is inserted into a vein, and your blood flows through an airtight tube into a sterile container or bag.

The process is similar to donating blood; it can be done at blood donation centers, hospital donation centers, or a doctor's office.

In the first stage of treatment, about 1 pint of blood is removed once or twice a week. After your iron levels return to normal, you may continue phlebotomy treatments. However, you may need them less often—typically every 2–4 months.

As long as treatment continues, which often is for the rest of your life, you'll need frequent blood tests to check your iron levels.

Iron Chelation Therapy

Iron chelation therapy uses medicine to remove excess iron from your body. This treatment is a good option for people who can't have routine blood removal.

The medicine used in iron chelation therapy is either injected or taken orally (by mouth). Injected iron chelation therapy is done at a doctor's office. Oral iron chelation therapy can be done at home.

Dietary Changes

Your doctor may suggest that you change your diet if you have hemochromatosis. You may be advised to:

  • Avoid taking iron, including iron pills, iron injections, or multivitamins that contain iron.
  • Limit your intake of vitamin C. Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron from food. Talk with your doctor about how much vitamin C is safe for you.
  • Avoid uncooked fish and shellfish. Some fish and shellfish contain bacteria that can cause infections in people who have chronic diseases, such as hemochromatosis.
  • Limit alcohol intake. Drinking alcohol increases the risk of liver disease. It also can make existing liver disease worse.

Treatment for Complications

Your doctor may prescribe other treatments as needed for complications such as liver disease, heart problems, or diabetes.

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Hemochromatosis Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Hemochromatosis, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.

 
February 01, 2011 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.