Medical Q&As

Cirrhosis - too much iron?

My dad is 47 years old and is currently experiencing extreme fatigue and a high susceptibility to illness (coughs, colds etc). He recently underwent blood tests and we are now awaiting a biopsy of his liver. We were told that he does not have cancer but there is a problem with the iron in his blood. We think this may be cirrhosis and could you tell me more about it, and how best to treat it? Is it fatal?

It appears to me that your father may have a condition known as haemochromatosis, which means that there is an excessive amount of iron in his body. This can lead to large amounts of iron being deposited in the liver and other organs. In the case of the liver this deposition of iron can lead on to cirrhosis. If my impression is correct it is likely that your father will undergo phlebotomy at regular interval, which means that that the doctors will draw off some of his blood in a procedure similar to giving a blood donation. This process ensures that the iron levels in his body are not allowed to rise back to the previously high toxic levels. You can learn more about haemochromatosis and cirrhosis of the liver by following these links: http://www.irishhealth.com/index.html?level=4&id=1175 and http://www.irishhealth.com/index.html?level=4&id=565. You might also find it helpful to read a previous Ask the Doctor answer on this subject which you can access at http://www.irishhealth.com/askdoc03.html?f_qid=2663. Once the condition is diagnosed and your father undergoes regular phlebotomy the ultimate prognosis should be good provided the level of damage to his liver and other organs is not too great. At 47 years of age his prognosis should be good and I certainly would not regard his situation as being potentially fatal. The liver biopsy and blood tests should easily confirm if my impressions about his condition are correct.