Hemochromatosis can be a dangerous condition if not caught early. If left untreated, hemochromatosis can damage organs and increase your risk for heart failure, cancer, diabetes, and other diseases. Learn about the link between hemochromatosis and alcohol, and how to get help.
Hemochromatosis occurs when your body experiences “iron overload” because of issues with iron absorption. When working properly, your intestines only absorb the amount of iron your body needs from food. If you have hemochromatosis, your body takes in excessive iron, which can be toxic. The process that tells your body it has adequate iron levels and shouldn’t absorb more is compromised.
Hemochromatosis is a condition that can cause or worsen:
- Liver failure
- Heart failure
- Liver cancer
Doctors have identified two types of hemochromatosis:
Primary hemochromatosis – Gene mutations cause this form of hemochromatosis. If you inherit a certain mutated gene from both of your parents, you’re at significant risk for developing hemochromatosis. Specifically, genes C282Y and H63D are mutations of the HFE gene, which regulates iron absorption. If you inherit one copy of C282Y or H63D, you may experience mild hemochromatosis, but you can still pass the gene onto your children. This primary form of hemochromatosis is also known as hereditary hemochromatosis, genetic hemochromatosis, and classic hemochromatosis.
Secondary hemochromatosis – This type of hemochromatosis occurs because of other diseases or conditions that increase iron levels. Conditions that put you at higher risk for hemochromatosis include:
- Alcoholic liver disease
- Several blood transfusions
- Excessive iron in food intake
- Kidney failure
- Hepatitis B or C
Symptoms of Hemochromatosis
Hemochromatosis symptoms vary by individual. In fact, some people can carry the gene, but experience no symptoms.
Hemochromatosis symptoms may include:
- Muscle or joint pain
- Stomach pain
- Problems focusing
- Impotence or loss of sex drive
- Mood changes
- Digestion problems
- Shortness of breath
- Sensitivity to cold or heat
Studies have shown that alcohol abusers are at higher risk for hemochromatosis and other liver conditions. It’s often difficult to distinguish between hemochromatosis and alcoholic liver disease because they share similar symptoms. The specific reasons why high alcohol consumption increases the risk of hemochromatosis is still under research. It’s likely due to the way alcohol can suppress hepcidin, a hormone that regulates your body’s absorption of iron. Alcohol intake can also enhance disease expression of the C282Y gene. This is one of the genes attributed to hereditary hemochromatosis. Patients with hereditary hemochromatosis are advised to avoid any alcohol.
Only a doctor can diagnose hemochromatosis. They may use liver function tests and iron-level detection tests like serum ferritin or transferrin saturation tests. If caught early, hemochromatosis is very treatable with a good prognosis. Without intervention, excessive iron accumulation can contribute to:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Heart failure
- Liver disease
- Liver failure
- Underactive thyroid and pituitary glands
- Liver cancer
- Adrenal gland damage
- Arthritis and other joint damage
- Bronze or gray skin color
- Erectile dysfunction and other reproductive organ issues
- Early menopause
Can Addiction Treatment Help Hemochromatosis?
Medical treatment for hemochromatosis involves ridding your body of excessive iron concentrations through blood removal procedures. This is done on a regular schedule and may continue throughout your lifetime with decreasing frequency. Sometimes medications that help iron pass through the urine are prescribed. Dietary changes like staying away from iron-rich foods and iron supplements and decreasing or avoiding alcohol intake may also be recommended.
Addiction treatment can treat drinking behaviors that worsen hemochromatosis. A key sign of alcohol addiction is the inability to stop drinking despite negative consequences to your health and life. If you’re having a hard time cutting back or quitting alcohol even after a medical diagnosis like hemochromatosis, it’s a good idea to get professional help. An addiction treatment program can help you:
- Safely detox from alcohol.
- Address the reasons why you drink.
- Treat co-occurring mental health disorders and trauma.
- Replace drinking with healthy coping skills.
- Build a support system in recovery.
Without treatment, substance abuse usually gets worse. Don’t risk your health or your life. If you’re struggling with alcohol abuse, call us today for a free, confidential consultation.