Blood iron disorders involve either the excess, deficiency or abnormal utilization of iron in the blood. In most cases this affects the blood and tissue oxygenation as the red blood cells are responsible for gas exchange between the blood and environment.
Red blood cells contain an iron-protein (metalloprotein) compound called hemoglobin. Hemoglobin binds to oxygen or carbon dioxide and transports it through the blood, carrying oxygen from the lungs to the tissues and carbon dioxide from the tissues to the lungs to be expelled in the environment. This process is essential for normal life processes. Red blood cells are constantly destroyed by the body and breakdown products are excreted in the stool. Simultaneously, the body produces new red blood cells on a constant basis to ensure a balance between and loss and new red blood cells.
Hemoglobin is made up of iron and proteins and is responsible for the characteristic red color of blood since red blood cells are a major component of blood. Any disturbance, abnormal utilization or low iron levels will affect hemoglobin formation thereby impacting on the gas exchange system within the human body. Excess iron or iron overload can lead to toxicity causing tissue damage.
There are four main low blood iron disorders which may display similar signs and symptoms. Low blood iron or reduced hemoglobin formation is referred to as anemia.
- Iron Deficiency Anemia (hypchromic microcytic anemia) is the reduced hemoglobin formation due to a lack of iron. It is the most common blood iron disorder and caused by loss of blood or inadequate absorption of iron from the gastrointestinal tract.
- Iron Utilization Anemia (sideroblastic anemia) is the abnormal utilization of iron although there is a sufficient iron availability with the red blood cell.
- Iron Transport Deficiency Anemia (atransferrinemia) is the reduced hemoglobin formation due to a failure to transport iron from the gastrointestinal tract or liver to the developing red blood cells.
- Iron-Reutilization Anemia (Anemia of Chronic Disease) is the result of reduced production of red blood cells. Since the body destroys red blood cells daily and new red blood cells are not replaced at a constant rate, anemia will result. This is the second most common type of anemia.
Iron poisoning is the excess of iron in the blood or within tissue. There are 3 types of excess iron conditions called hemochromatosis or hemosiderosis.
- Iron Overload (hemochromatosis or hemosiderosis) is a condition caused by excess iron within the blood or tissues and causes tissue injury and cellular toxicity over time. The three main iron overload conditions include primary hemochromatosis, secondary hemosiderosis and focal hemosiderosis.
Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on July 6, 2009