Fewer phlebotomies needed thanks to medication
A pill could significantly reduce the number of annual phlebotomies needed by people suffering from haemochromatosis (iron overload). Researchers at Maastricht UMC+ reported this in the medical journal Gastroenterology. A reduction in the number of phlebotomies needed prevents patients suffering unwanted side-effects (such as fatigue and fainting) and the discomfort of the procedure itself. The Maastricht researchers examined the effectiveness of one type of medicine that is usually used for treating regurgitation, acid reflux and stomach ulcers.
Haemochromatosis is a hereditary disorder that causes the body to absorb too much iron. It is also known as iron overload. If the condition is detected too late or if it is left untreated, it can cause serious damage to various organs, including the liver, heart and pancreas. Approximately 1 in 300 people have the genetic disorder that causes this condition, making it one of the most common genetic disorders in humans, although it does not affect everyone’s everyday life to the same degree.
Phlebotomy is the most common treatment used to reduce levels of iron in the body, with patients having to give approximately half a litre of blood several times a year. ‘Since there is no remedy for iron overload, patients have to undergo the procedure for the rest of their lives’, says principal researcher and gastroenterologist Dr Ger Koek from Maastricht UMC+. ‘The number of phlebotomies should be kept to a minimum given the associated discomfort and side-effects.’ Medications classified as ‘proton pump inhibitors’, which are usually used for regurgitation, acid reflux and stomach ulcers, appear to provide a solution.
The Maastricht researchers followed 30 patients with haemochromatosis over a period of 12 months. Half the group were given a proton pump inhibitor, and the other half a placebo. Ultimately, the medication allowed patients to undergo phlebotomy just once a year, compared with the previously required five phlebotomies a year. Koek: ‘Potentially, the medication could offer a better quality of life for patients, and pave the way for a possible new treatment standard in which patients could be offered a wider range of treatment options than just regular phlebotomies.’