Hereditary hemochromatosis is a relatively common genetic condition where the body stores more iron than normal. Iron is a central component of our blood – we can’t live without it. However, we only need a few grams for our blood to function normally. Excessive levels of iron can be toxic.


What is hereditary hemochromatosis?

Hemochromatosis is an inherited disorder where excess iron is absorbed from the diet.

Eventually, the excess iron accumulates in tissues, such as the liver, pancreas, and heart. Without treatment, damage to these organs occurs resulting in cirrhosis, diabetes and heart failure.

Hemochromatosis is fairly common in people of northern European descent (approximately 1 in 300 people).

What is the treatment for hemochromatosis?

Treatment of hemochromatosis usually includes reducing iron intake and removing excess iron from the body.

People with hemochromatosis reduce iron intake by avoiding iron-rich foods, as well as multivitamins with iron or iron supplements.

To help with iron removal, phlebotomies are performed. Iron is an important component of hemoglobin, found in red blood cells. Removing blood, also called phlebotomy, at regular intervals is an important treatment for hemochromatosis

Can individuals with hemochromatosis donate blood?

People with hemochromatosis can donate blood, providing they meet all Canadian Blood Services donor criteria. Donor criteria includes an extensive medical eligibility questionnaire as well as wellness check at the collection centre.

Donor eligibility screening helps ensure that the phlebotomy will not harm the donor, nor impact the safety of the blood product or the safety of recipient. For this reason, people with complications of hemochromatosis such as liver cirrhosis or heart failure are not eligible to donate.

How frequently can people with hemochromatosis donate?

All whole blood donors, including those with hemochromatosis, can donate blood every 56 days if they are registered as male and every 84 days if they are registered as female. Individuals may have phlebotomies in between donations, providing there is at least one week between an outpatient phlebotomy and their next Canadian Blood Services donation. For example, if an individual has a phlebotomy this Monday in their outpatient clinic, they can donate blood at Canadian Blood Services the following Monday.