Hemochromatosis – 4About the AuthorMICHAEL WINNUBST WAS BORN in New Zealand of Dutch parents in 1956. Michael followed his father into the building trade and today has his own decking and renovation business in Queensland, Australia.Mike’s father died of liver cancer three years ago.In his building business, Michael is a jack of all trades often working up to 12 hours a day on various jobs.His hobbies include flying remote controlled helicopters although this activity has been severely curtailed in recent times because of extreme leg pain. Mike is unable to stand for long periods or walk long distances to retrieve the helicopters.All of this major change in his lifestyle began in 2008 when he was first diagnosed with hemochromatosis. More details of Mike’s battle with the disease are explained later in the book in Chapter 3 beginning on page 17.In March 2008 Mike discovered he had a level of 1100 ferritin with a relatively dense liver compared to his spleen. He began weekly venesections for almost a year but suffered from painful symptoms including constant bloating of stomach, heartburn, crippling pains in the backs of the legs, tightening and pains in the chest, aching body, an inability to carry loads for work as normal, general weakness, shortness of breath and mild to extreme fatigue.In June 2009 his ferritin levels reached a normal level and have remained so ever since. His bleeding sessions now occur every 3 to 4 months.Mike has hoped that things would get better as the level of iron was reduced but it didn’t and still hasn’t. In November 2009 Mike continued to suffer severe chest pains, an inability to breath deeply, shortness of breath from minimal exertion and being unable to sleep laying down due to chest discomfort, In February 2010, Mike had to stop work because of the discomfort. He has had test after test after test, and seen specialist after specialist In April 2010 there were still no reasons found so Mike was sent away to JUST COPE and to return to work. Currently he is trying to sell his business but until that happens he is attempting to be a manager without the hands-on component. He is currently working 8 hours a day, 4 days a week with a crew helping but still finds it hard and feels like he is dying most days.Pain has been decreased through remedial massage, homeopathy tablets and liniments, acupressure and acupuncture. Mike has acupuncture once a week now which keeps him going and luckily has a partner who massages the pain with the homeopathic liniments. His working life in the future will perhaps be to train in IT once time permits and once the business is sold. When he writes about hemochromatosis, he writes from personal experience.
Iron is a very important mineral in the body. It works in conjunction with hemoglobin to maintain the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. About 10% of iron found in food sources is absorbed by the body. Any excess is automatically flushed out of the system for the body knows how to regulate itself. With hereditary hemochromatosis, twice as much iron is absorbed and retained in the body. Even those who are not taking in iron supplements will experience in later years the effects of accumulated iron.
The problem with hereditary hemochromatosis lies in the genes. The defective gene is called HFE, and is passed on from one generation to another. If both parents have the defective gene, there is a 50% chance that the offspring will experience the condition. If only one parent has the gene, the probability is not that high. Symptoms often depend on the type of organ it affects. Iron accumulation can happen anywhere in the body, most commonly in the heart, liver, and pancreas. Symptoms often include:
- Arrhythmias or irregular heart beat
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Hepatomegaly or liver enlargement
- Premature menopause
- Chronic fatigue
- Memory problems
- Decreased resistance against infection
The treatment for hereditary hemochromatosis usually has 2 areas of concern. The first area is addressing any complications that may have occurred due to years of non-treatment such as diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver. The second area is the condition itself. Phlebotomy is done in regular intervals to help reduce the level of iron in the blood. The process is similar to that of giving blood, with as much as 500ml is extracted. It usually takes 2-3 years of periodic therapeutic phlebotomy to help reach the normal iron levels in the body.
If this is not an option, iron chelation therapy is done. Drugs that are made to lower down iron levels in
the body by limiting its absorption as well as aid in its elimination are given. To further help the therapy, it is important that consumption of iron-rich foods is limited. These include red meats, organ meats, green-leafy vegetables, as well as supplements that contain iron. Intake of Vitamin C is also limited as it aids in the absorption of iron. Your doctor may also recommend you to other specialists to help you cope with other conditions brought about by hemochromatosis.