Hemosiderosis is a rare condition in which too much iron is present in certain organs, most commonly in the lungs. A person with a mild form of the disorder may never experience symptoms, though significant iron overload can cause major damage to the lungs, kidneys, and other important organs. The biggest concern associated with hemosiderosis is the possibility of excessive hemorrhaging in the lungs, which can lead to anemia, breathing problems, and heart complications. Doctors treat acute problems with drugs and oxygen therapy, and attempt to control chronic conditions with immune system-suppressing steroids.
Hemosiderin is a blood protein that is formed when red blood cells break down. The protein stores a tiny amount of iron to supply body tissues and keep iron levels stable in the body. If excessive hemorrhaging occurs in a lung, the red blood cells that build up inside the organ can create huge quantities of hemosiderin proteins. Several different health problems can lead to pulmonary hemorrhage and hemosiderosis, most notably autoimmune inflammatory disorders, chronic bronchitis, and exposure to environmental toxins and molds. Many cases of childhood hemosiderosis are idiopathic, meaning that doctors are unable to identify a true underlying cause.
The most common symptoms of acute hemosiderosis include coughing up blood, breathing difficulties, chest tightness, and dizziness. A person who suffers a major hemorrhage may turn pale and possibly lose consciousness. The heartbeat may initially race but then slow to a dangerous level. If hemosiderosis becomes a frequent or chronic problem, a person can experience symptoms of iron deficiency anemia, such as extreme fatigue, severe headaches, and irritability.
A specialist can diagnose hemosiderosis by asking about symptoms and medical history and checking blood samples for signs of anemia. Chest x-rays and computerized tomography scans are taken to look for active pulmonary hemorrhages and sections of scar tissue where bleeding has occurred in the past. Depending on the severity of symptoms, a patient may be immediately hospitalized or scheduled for a follow-up visit after receiving a diagnosis.
Hemosiderosis that causes serious complications may require oxygen therapy and heart-stabilizing clinical procedures. A patient might need to take medications to stabilize blood pressure and chelating drugs that flush iron from the body. A blood transfusion may be necessary if a massive amount of blood has been lost. In order to reduce the chances of lung hemorrhages in the future, patients usually need to take immunosuppressant steroids such as prednisone for several months or years. When an underlying cause is found, it is treated accordingly.