Iron Overload

What is Iron Overload?
Iron overload is an excess (too much) iron in the body. Excess iron in vital organs, even in mild cases of iron overload, increases the risk for liver disease (cirrhosis, cancer), heart attack or heart failure, diabetes mellitus, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome, hypothyroidism, hypogonadism, numerous symptoms and in some cases premature death.

What Causes Iron Overload?
Iron overload can be inherited (genetic) or acquired by receiving numerous blood transfusions, getting iron shots or injections, or consuming high levels of supplemental iron. When a person is receiving blood transfusions on a regular basis, iron can build up to toxic levels requiring iron chelation therapy.

What Treatments are Available for Iron Overload?
Currently in Canada, the only approved treatments for iron overload are Desferal (deferoxamine) and Exjade (deferasirox).

Desferal (deferoxamine) is an effective medication for removing iron from the body.  It must be administered slowly by needle, in the vein or under the skin, for eight to 12 hours per day, five to seven days a week.  Desferal has significantly changed the prognosis of patients with thalassemia major, but many of the patients find the infusions of Desferal difficult or painful and are reluctant to comply with their doctor’s orders. These patients are not free of risk and may die prematurely due to iron overload.

Exjade (deferasirox) is the first oral iron chelator available in Canada. It is an effective, well-tolerated pill that a patient dissolves in water and drinks once a day. Exjade improves patients’ quality of life and may lead to improved patient compliance with treatment.

Please talk with your doctor about which treatment is right for you.

For more information on financial support for thalassemia patients, please click here.