Blood: is it dangerous to have too much iron?

Iron overload is an abnormal accumulation of iron in the body. Like all metabolic disorders, this excess iron can have significant repercussions on the body. Which ? How to detect the first signs of overload?

To fully understand the deleterious effects that an iron overload can have on health, we must begin by recalling the purpose of this constituent of hemoglobin. First, you should know that the majority of iron reserves are stored in the liver. This is where the component binds to ferritin, a particularly important protein since it regulates the mechanism of intestinal absorption according to the body’s needs. However, it happens – in very special cases – that these reserves overflow… This is the overload! Since iron is transported through red blood cells to many organs – brain, heart, muscles, etc. – this excess can have major systemic impacts.

Having too much iron, in which cases?

There are different situations that can lead to an accumulation of iron in the body: genetic anomaly, abnormal degradation or malformation of red blood cells, liver pathologies, repeated transfusions, excessive iron supplementation… When it remains mild to moderate, the overload iron often goes unnoticed because it causes very few symptoms. It is only in the event of a high overload that the most convincing clinical manifestations appear, such as hyperpigmentation of the skin or increased fatigue. In the absence of correction of the level of iron in the blood, various organs are likely to be progressively and irreparably damaged.

Having too much iron, what are the risks?

The liver is generally the organ most quickly affected since it is the seat of iron reserves. In the long term, the overload can be complicated in cirrhosis then in hepatocellular carcinoma. Diabetes is also a risk while hypothyroidism occurs in some patients. It is therefore imperative to restore normal reserves to reduce all of these risks. For this, two options are possible: blood collection by phlebotomy or chelation. The first solution of removing a certain amount of blood is not always possible, since many affected patients also suffer from anemia. Iron chelation requires the administration of chelating drugs that will allow the extraction of the hemoglobin component.

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