Hemochromatosis: The Facts

Dr. Michell Shiffman of Bon Secours' Liver Institute of Virginia

Dr. Michell Shiffman of Bon Secours' Liver Institute of Virginia

Hemochromatosis is a genetic disorder where the body absorbs too much iron.  The excess iron is deposited in many organs including the heart, pancreas, joints, testis and the liver.  Iron accumulation within the liver can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Patients with hemochromatosis are found to have elevated levels of iron and iron carrying proteins in the blood.  These patients may also have elevated liver enzymes when enough iron is deposited within the liver and is damaging the liver.

Patients may also develop an irregular heart beat if too much iron is deposited within the heart, diabetes if too much iron is deposited within the pancreas, arthritis is too much iron is deposited within the joints and impotence if too much iron is deposited within the testis.

Since hemochromatosis is a genetic disorder one of the most important things to do once a patient with hemochromatosis has been identified is to test all siblings and children of the patient for this gene.  A blood test for the defective gene is available.  Relatives of the patient found to have the defective gene should consult their physician regarding the proper course of action.

The treatment for hemochromatosis is phlebotomy, to remove blood.  Since red blood cells contain a lot of iron, phlebotomy removes iron.  After each phlebotomy iron moves from the organs where it has deposited, like the liver, to the bone marrow to make more blood.    Over time all iron has moved out of the organs where it does not belong.  The number of phlebotomies required to remove all iron from the organs where it does not belong depends upon how much iron is stored within these organs.  For the average patient with hemochromatosis this requires approximately 6 months of weekly phlebotomy. If phlebotomy is performed less frequently than once weekly it may take significantly longer.

Once all iron has been removed for these organs phlebotomy can be stopped for prolonged periods of time.  However, since the genetic disorder is always present and the body is always keeping too much iron the average patient will require phlebotomy every 3-4 months to prevent further iron accumulation.

This entry was posted in Bon Secours News, Bon Secours Specialties, General News, Health News & Information, Liver Health and tagged , , , , , , , on by .

About Dr.MLShiffman

Dr. Mitchell Shiffman is the Bon Secours expert on liver disease and liver treatments for Virginia. Prior to joining Bon Secours, Dr. Shiffman was a professor of Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, VA. He was the Chief of the Hepatology Section and Medical Director of the Liver Transplant Program at the VCU Medical Center from 1989 until 2009. During his 20 years at the VCU Medical Center Dr. Shiffman built and directed one of the most respected and productive hepatology programs in the United States. Dr. Shiffman is recognized as one of the world’s leaders in the field of Hepatology. His particular area of research is viral hepatitis. He has been involved with and/or directed numerous clinical trials to develop new and better treatments for viral hepatitis B and C. Dr. Shiffman is a regular speaker on the treatment of viral hepatitis, the management of various liver disorders, and issues related to liver transplantation at regional, national and international society meetings. He has published over 200 articles in medical journals related to the treatment of liver diseases and has edited two books on this topic. In addition, he has contributed to various HCV educational resources including an HCV educational kit. Dr. Shiffman is also a widely recognized expert consultant to pharmaceutical companies on the treatment of liver disease. Dr. Shiffman holds a Bachelor of Arts from State University of New York at Buffalo, a Master of Science in physiology from the University of New Mexico School of Medicine in Albuquerque, N.M. and his Doctor of Medicine from State University of New York Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, N.Y. He completed his internship and residency in internal medicine and fellowship training in gastroenterology and hepatology at the Medical College of Virginia Hospitals in Richmond, VA. Dr. Shiffman is a member of many professional organizations including: the American College of Gastroenterology, American College of Physicians, the American Gastroenterological Association, American Society for the Study of Liver Diseases, American Society of Transplantation, European Association for the Study of the Liver, International Liver Transplantation Society, Richmond Academy of Medicine, Virginia Medical Society and the Virginia Gastrointestinal Society. He was a member of the Board of Trustees with the American College of Gastroenterology from 2003-2009.

Speak Your Mind