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Hemochromatosis and Diabetes

Treatment of Hemochromatosis

That difference between men and women in the progression of hemochromatosis is a clue to the simple, straightforward treatment for hemochromatosis: phlebotomy, or blood-letting. When first diagnosed, people with hemochromatosis are put on an intensive schedule of phlebotomy to bring their iron levels down. They must give a pint of blood once or twice a week, often for many months.

Measures of blood iron levels are monitored, and when they are finally in the normal range, the patient is put on a maintenance schedule of giving a pint of blood at greater intervals, usually every 2 or 3 months. Unlike diabetes, hemochromatosis is virtually cured through its treatment, with patients remaining completely asymptomatic as long as iron levels are monitored and maintained in the normal range.

If treatment begins before any organs are damaged, associated conditions — such as liver disease, heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes 3 can be prevented. The outlook for people who already have these conditions at diagnosis depends on the degree of organ damage.

For example, treating hemochromatosis can stop the progression of liver disease in its early stages, which means a normal life expectancy. However, if cirrhosis has developed, the person's risk of developing liver cancer increases, even if iron stores are reduced to normal levels. People with diabetes resulting from pancreatic damage usually see an improvement if not a reversal of their diabetes, depending on how much damage has occurred.