There are many causes of high iron in the blood. Some symptoms of too much iron are fatigue, weakness and unexplained weight loss. Additionally, it can cause hair loss, shortness of breath and loss of sex drive. Each individual's iron level should be checked regularly by a blood test as part of an annual exam, but if you have any of these symptoms, meet with your medical provider sooner to discuss causes and treatments.
Alcohol-related illness, such as liver disease, is a common reason for high iron in the blood. Even if liver disease is absent, individuals struggling with alcoholism may have high iron levels. This is because alcohol acts as a catalyst to increase the level of iron absorption in the body.
Hemochromatosis is a genetic disorder that causes the body to store too much iron, resulting in high iron levels. This disorder occurs when the HFE gene is passed to a child by a parent. If the disease progresses without treatment, it can cause cirrhosis, liver cancer, diabetes and heart problems. Usually people with this disorder don't show symptoms until middle age. Some symptoms may be abdominal pain, bronze- or gray-colored skin, impotence or arthritis.
Some individuals take iron supplements when feeling fatigued or weak because traditional wisdom suggests low iron may be the cause. The problem is that high iron stores have similar symptoms. Iron toxicity can occur when the body is unable to excrete iron. Unless there is an iron deficiency and your physician prescribes differently, the upper limit of adult iron intake a day is 45 mg daily. For children, it is 40 mg daily
Blood transfusions introduce iron into the body. Because the body has no natural mechanism for removing excess iron, multiple transfusions can lead to high iron levels. Therefore, individuals who suffer from diseases where blood transfusions are part of treatment need to be monitored for iron toxicity.
As with any blood test, there is the possibility of human error at the laboratory in preparing, reading and storing the test. There can be false positives if the individual is dehydrated. Therefore, if the results are positive for high iron levels, your physician will probably order another test to confirm the original findings.
High iron levels obviously are cause for concern as they are a marker for various diseases and illnesses, such as alcoholism, liver disease, and hemochromatosis. Therefore, it is important to have regular physical exams that include a blood test for iron levels in order to ensure timely intervention of any conditions that need to be addressed.
If you are diagnosed by your physician with high iron levels, she may put you on medication that binds to the iron and help it flow through your urine. You may be told to have blood drawn up to twice a month until the levels decrease. Sometimes the only treatment that works is a blood transfusion. It's also a good idea to decrease the amount of iron rich foods you eat and avoid multivitamins that have iron.