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Hemochromatosis and Blood Donation

What is hemochromatosis?

Hereditary hemochromatosis is an inherited disorder of iron metabolism, where excess iron is absorbed from the diet.  Eventually, the excess iron accumulates in tissues, such as the liver, pancreas, and heart.  In advanced cases, damage to these organs occurs, with cirrhosis, diabetes and cardiac failure.  Hemochromatosis is fairly common in people of northern European descent (approximately 1 in 300 people). 

What is the treatment for hemochromatosis?

Since iron is an important component of hemoglobin, found in red blood cells, phlebotomy at regular intervals is the usual treatment for hemochromatosis. Depending on the amount of excess iron, phlebotomies may be done quite frequently initially (such as every week) and later on  may be spaced out to maintain the iron level in the normal range.

Can individuals with hemochromatosis donate blood?

People with hemochromatosis can donate blood, providing they meet all other Canadian Blood Services donor eligibility criteria.  Individuals with late complications from hemochromatosis such as liver cirrhosis or heart failure are not eligible to donate.

How frequently can people with hemochromatosis donate?

Individuals with hemochromatosis can donate blood every 56 days for males and every 84 days for females, which is the usual interval for whole blood donation at Canadian Blood Services.  Unfortunately, they cannot donate more frequently than every 56 days for males and every 84 days for females at Canadian Blood Services.  The interval between donations is controlled by our computer system, since this is a critical criterion for donor safety.

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 next Monday.