What causes high iron levels?

Anthony L. Komaroff, MD
Internal Medicine
The most common cause of having too much iron in the body is a genetic condition called hereditary hemochromatosis. People with the condition have digestive systems that absorb an excessive amount of iron. Normally, iron is stored mainly in red blood cells. But when the body absorbs too much iron, the surplus can't all be stored in the blood, so it builds up in other organs, notably the liver, heart, and pancreas. If the abnormal buildup goes on too long, it can produce disease.

The most effective and commonly used treatment for iron overload is therapeutic phlebotomy. This involves removing blood regularly—usually once or twice a week—for as long as a year or more. Every unit of blood that is removed eliminates around 250 milligrams of iron. As iron in the blood is taken out, the organs where iron has been stored start to lose that extra iron. If treatment begins early enough, it can prevent disease in the organs with iron overload. Blood (and, hence, iron) should be removed as frequently as possible, but not so frequently that the person becomes anemic.
There are many causes of high iron levels. Some examples include Hemolytic Anemia, which is the breakdown of red blood cells. Just simply taking too much iron in supplements and receiving multiple blood transfusions are possible causes. Also, lead poisoning and liver disease are a couple other causes. One of the most common hereditary causes is Hereditary Hemochromatosis which simply means iron overload. This is a disease handed down from parents to children.

Continue Learning about Blood Diseases

Blood Diseases

Blood Diseases

There are many types of blood diseases. Some, such as hemophilia, a condition in which blood does not clot normally, are inherited. Others, such as iron-deficiency anemia, may result from heavy menstrual periods, ulcers, colon pol...

yps and even an iron-poor diet, making you dizzy, cold, weak and irritable. Still others, such as sepsis, which is an overstimulation of the immune system, are caused by infection. Learn more about various types of blood disease and treatment with expert advice from Sharecare.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.