An overload of iron in the organs and tissues leads to a condition known as hemosiderosis. 70% of the body’s iron is found in the red blood cells and when red blood cells die in the body, they release the iron and it becomes hemosiderin. Hemosiderin is the protein in the body’s tissue that stores iron. An excessive accumulation of iron causes hemosiderosis.
Symptoms of iron overload
Usually, there are no prevalent symptoms of iron overload. However, in the long run, accumulation of iron in the organs can cause certain symptoms. These symptoms include fatigue, coughing (with blood in most cases), pain throughout the body, difficulty in breathing, shortness of breath especially while working out, wheezing, reduced growth in children, and unexplained weight loss.
Causes of iron overload
The two main causes of iron overload are red blood cells breaking with the bloodstream and bleeding within an area of tissue or organ. There are various conditions that can cause either of this to happen in various parts of the body.
- Hemosiderosis in the kidneys
Kidneys are primarily responsible for filtering the blood. It can be overwhelming for the kidneys to have repeated blood transfusions, this can lead to iron deposits. This means that the red blood cells can break down and release iron, this further leads to an accumulation of iron in the kidneys. This type of iron overload is known as renal hemosiderosis. Autoimmune conditions, hemolytic anemia, dialysis, and paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria are also some of the medical conditions that can overload the kidneys with iron.
- Hemosiderosis in the lungs
Hemosiderosis that is involved in the lungs is known as pulmonary hemosiderosis. This is usually caused due to bleeding in the lungs. The body usually eliminates most of this blood. However, it can leave behind iron deposits as well. When there is no cause of bleeding, it is known as idiopathic pulmonary hemosiderosis. Other underlying conditions like chronic lung infections, autoimmune conditions, and pulmonary hypertension may also cause hemosiderosis in the lungs.
Diagnosis of hemosiderosis
An overload of iron is difficult to diagnose as it does not have obvious symptoms. If the doctor feels that one may have it, a complete blood count (CBC) test is conducted to know what is in the blood. In the case of hemosiderosis, blood test reflects a low count of iron. This is because of the excess iron that is stored in the organs instead of circulating through the bloodstream. There are various medical tests that are conducted to diagnose hemosiderosis based on the blood test results. These usually include MRI scan, lung function test, CT scan, lung biopsy, or even a urine test.
Treatment of hemosiderosis
The treatment of hemosiderosis varies based on its underlying cause. In some cases, the treatment is not required. Some of the common treatment option varying on the cause include immunosuppressant medications for autoimmune conditions, calcium channel blockers, and anticoagulants for pulmonary hypertension, lung transplant, corticosteroids for bleeding in the autoimmune conditions, and lung therapy for lung conditions.