Ferritin Overload: When Too Much Iron Becomes a Problem
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When we think about health, certain issues come to mind instantly – heart problems, diabetes, or even the common cold.
But there’s one we need to talk about, and that’s ferritin overload.
It’s not a topic that gets a lot of attention though, but it’s definitely something worth knowing about.
Imagine you having ferritin overload in your body, that is quietly causing problems without you even realizing it.
In this post, we’re going to break it down for you, explain what ferritin overload is, what causes it, and most importantly, how you can spot the signs and take action.
Before we start here are some few things you’re going to learn in this article:
- What is ferritin overload?
- Symptoms of ferritin overload
- What is ferritin overload
- How ferritin can harm you
- Causes of ferritin overload
- How is ferritin overload diagnosed
- How to manage ferritin overload
- Treatment options for ferritin overload
So now let’s get started.
What is Ferritin Overload?
When there’s too much ferritin in your body, it’s known as ferritin overload. This can damage your organs, such as the liver, heart, and pancreas.
There are two main types of ferritin overload: primary and secondary.
- Primary ferritin overload: A genetic condition caused by a mutation in the HFE gene, responsible for regulating iron absorption. People with primary ferritin overload are at an increased risk of developing organ damage, even if they do not have the symptoms.
- Secondary ferritin overload: It is caused by blood transfusions, anemia or liver disease. It can also be caused by taking too much iron supplement.
Certain people are at an increased risk of developing ferritin overload, including:
- People with a family history of ferritin overload
- People with anemia
- People who receive frequent blood transfusions
- People with liver disease
- People who take iron supplements
How Ferritin Overload Can Harm You (The dangers)
Ferritin is found in all cells of the body, but it is concentrated more in the liver, spleen, and bone marrow.
When your ferritin levels are high, iron leaks out of cells, and damages tissues and organs.
Ferritin overload, also known as hyperferritinemia causes a number of health problems, including:
- Scarring and damage to your liver.
- Damage to your heart muscles, which increases the risk of heart failure.
- Higher chances of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Pain and swelling in your joints.
- Damage to your thyroid gland.
- Increased risk of liver and colon cancer.
The symptoms of ferritin overload can be extremely serious depending on the condition.
In some cases, people with ferritin overload may have no symptoms at all. But, as ferritin levels rise, you may start to experience symptoms like:
- Shortness of breath
- Abdominal pain
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Darkening of the skin
- Decreased libido
- Hypothyroidism symptoms
Early diagnosis and treatment helps to prevent serious health problems.
How is Ferritin Overload Diagnosed
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of ferritin overload, some tests may be used to diagnose this condition, including:
- Transferrin saturation test: This measures the amount of iron bound to the protein transferrin in your blood. High transferrin saturation levels may indicate iron overload.
- Liver function test: This test measures the levels of hepcidin and transferrin in your blood if you have liver damage caused by iron overload.
- MRI: It is used to measure the amount of iron in your liver and other organs.
- Genetic testing: Its used to check for mutations in the HFE gene, which is the most common cause of hereditary hemochromatosis.
A ferritin test may also be used to measure the amount of ferritin in your blood.
To perform a ferritin test, a blood sample is drawn from a vein in your arm.
The blood sample will then be sent to a laboratory for analysis and your ferritin test results will be available within a few days.
However, in general, ferritin levels above 500 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL) in men and 200 ng/dL in women are high.
Simple tips for preparing for a ferritin test:
- Fast for at least 8 hours before the test.
- Drink plenty of fluids before the test.
- Wear comfortable clothing with loose sleeves.
- Talk to your doctor about any drug or supplement you are taking.
How to Manage Ferritin Overload
If you have ferritin overload, there are things you can do to manage the condition and reduce your risk of complications such as:
- Tracking your ferritin levels and identifying any complications early on.
- Limiting processed foods, red meat, and iron-rich foods, like spinach, liver, and fortified cereals.
- Avoiding iron supplements.
- Limiting your intake of vitamin C-rich foods; oranges, grapefruit, and broccoli.
- Avoiding alcohol if you have ferritin overload.
Treating Ferritin Overload
Treatment involves reducing high amounts of iron in your body.
The specific treatment method will actually depend on the condition that is causing your ferritin levels to rise abnormally.
There are two ways to treat ferritin overload:
- Phlebotomy. A procedure that removes blood from the body. This is the most common treatment for ferritin overload. It is done once a week or once every two weeks until ferritin levels are under control.
- Iron chelation therapy. Taking iron chelators like deferoxamine binds to excess iron and helps the body get rid of it. This therapy is used for people with ferritin overload who cannot tolerate phlebotomy or those who have severe organ damage.
Deferoxamine is given by injection or infusion. It is highly effective at removing excess iron, but it can also have serious side effects, such as kidney and hearing damage.
Ferritin overload is a condition where your body stores too much iron, potentially damaging vital organs. It comes in primary and secondary forms, with certain risk factors.
Symptoms are different for each person, so early detection of ferritin overload is important.
To figure out if you have ferritin overload, do some tests to check it out.
If you do have ferritin overload, you have to change your diet and, in some cases, get treatment such as phlebotomy or taking iron chelating medications.
The main idea here is that if you are able to know the symptoms earlier, you can make changes in your diet and lifestyle, so as to take full control over the condition to avoid serious problems.