Venesections are used to treat haemochromatosis.

Haemochromatosis is a condition that causes excess iron to build up in the body. Too much iron in the body can become toxic over time if left untreated. It can cause damage to other tissues and organs in the body.

Iron is an essential mineral in your diet. About two-thirds of the iron you absorb is used to make the protein haemoglobin. This is found in red blood cells, and it carries oxygen around your body.

Your body has no way of excreting iron, so any excess iron that is not immediately needed by your body is stored in your liver, bone marrow, pancreas, heart, endocrine glands and joints.

How is haemochromatosis treated?

Treatment consists of the removal of blood by venesection (similar to donating blood). Up to 500mL of blood is removed at regular intervals until the iron levels in the blood return to within the normal range.

This can take up to 18 months with weekly or sometimes twice weekly venesections, depending on the original iron levels of the patient.

Once normal levels of iron are re-established, venesections are used less frequently (three or four times a year) to maintain those levels throughout the patient’s lifetime.