Causes of high blood iron levels

Conditions requiring frequent blood transfusions can generate a high iron content in the blood. Save Keith Brofsky / Photodisc / Getty Images

Most iron in blood is bound to hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen. The blood iron not found in hemoglobin may be in transit and bound protein called transferrin. The iron comes from body reserves in the form of a protein called ferritin. The determination of total iron in the blood and the ways in which it is present indicate whether the body iron is low, normal or high. The medical term for a high level of iron is hemochromatosis, a disease potentially toxic. Excess iron is not in the form of hemoglobin or of other proteins may cause organ damage.

Iron Metabolism

Two-thirds or more of body iron circulates in the blood as hemoglobin. Given its importance, the body tends to keep the iron, no way to get rid of any excess. Unless blood is lost, only about 1 percent of your iron leaves the body every day. The iron absorbed from food replaces normal iron loss. As red blood cells die, the iron in hemoglobin is recycled stored for later use. The iron is stored primarily in the liver, spleen, bone marrow and muscle as ferritin or hemosiderin. Ferritin levels in the blood, usually reflect the total levels of iron in the body, and often are measured together with iron in the blood. Inflammation, obesity, kidney or liver disease and certain forms of cancer can cause emission of ferritin in the blood. Particularly with inflammation, this may be a short-term effect that heals itself.

Iron from food

Consuming large amounts of iron in food or water is not usually the cause of iron overload because your body can typically increase or decrease the amount absorbed as needed. Sources of excess iron in the diet include well water, the water passing through iron pipes, or foods, particularly acidic food, cooked in iron pots. In some cases, tablets iron or iron injections may have been prescribed and can be the cause of the overload. The excessive alcohol consumption or have hereditary hemochromatosis, a genetic disease, increases the body iron stores to interfere with normal control absorption of iron from food. Alcoholism and primary hemochromatosis are two of the most common causes of iron overload.

Other causes for high levels of iron

The secondary hemochromatosis is the term for another disease or condition leading to increased iron levels in the blood and body. Alcoholic cirrhosis, fatty liver and other liver disease, kidney disease or diabetes may be the cause. People with diseases that lead to premature aging or destruction of sickle cells such as thalassemia or anemia, often develop high levels of iron, partly because blood transfusions of red blood cells are required. People whose bone marrow is not working efficiently in the production of red blood cells, for example, in cancer patients or persons with aplastic anemia or myelodysplastic syndrome are also commonly transfused. Recurrent transfusions add large amounts of iron in the body and are another common cause overload.

Iron accumulation

Chronic overdose of iron can lead to diabetes, heart muscle damage, loss of sexual desire, liver cirrhosis and kidney disease. Iron stores generally increase slowly over time in the absence of transfusion. Even people with hereditary hemochromatosis or drink do not show signs of high iron levels in many years. However, the damage caused by iron overload may be irreversible. People with a family history of iron overload should discuss their risks with your doctor.