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 FAQs Coping with A-Fib: Excess Iron

FAQs A-Fib afib14. “Can excess iron in the blood (Iron Overload Deficiency, IOD) cause Atrial Fibrillation? How do I know if I have IOD? What can I do about it?”

Not only does excess iron in the blood trigger or predispose you to A-Fib, it injures and eventually can kill a variety of body organs like the liver and gall bladder.

According to the Iron Disorder Institute: “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. Iron mismanagement resulting in overload can accelerate such neurodegenerative diseases as Alzheimer’s, early-onset Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.

Excess iron is toxic and can injure every part of the body, including the brain. Iron Overload is a much more widespread condition than people are aware of affecting approximately 1 out of 6 people in the United States. One can develop excess iron by absorbing too much from supplements, iron-rich diet, tobacco and other sources.

When you have your annual physical exam, your doctor should check for iron overload. The most common tests are:

1. Transferrin saturation (TS), also called “Percentage of Saturation.” After fasting, blood is taken to measure Total Iron Binding Capacity (TIBC) and Serum Iron (SI). SI is divided by TIBC to get the Percentage of Saturation. A safe range is 12-44%. Over that is considered iron overload.
2. Serum ferritin concentration (stored iron). A safe range is 5-150. (If the TS test comes out OK, this test may not be done.)
3. Hemoglobin: Iron is used by the body for hemoglobin production. Hemoglobin is the iron-containing respiratory pigment in red blood cells. The top normal level is 14 for women, 15 for men.
4. Red blood cells: the percentage by volume of packed red blood cells in a given sample of blood after centrifugation (i.e., the percentage of red blood cells in your blood). The top normal level is 42 for women, 45 for men.
5. The Unbound Iron Binding Capacity (UIBC) is another test used less frequently. A safe range is above 146. If you’re below that, you should be treated for iron overload.

Pre-menopausal women normally loose blood monthly thereby lowering their iron levels. In men the iron just accumulates with age. “Unfortunately, the body has no way to rid itself of excess iron.”

To get your iron levels down, you may have to give blood through a phlebotomy program at your doctor’s office or blood bank as often as once or twice a week. Drugs known as chelators can also remove excess iron from the blood.

To prevent iron overload (IOD), many of us, particularly men, would benefit from donating blood on a regular basis.  “When you donate blood, the life you save may be your own.” (But be advised that some A-Fib medications like some blood thinners may preclude you from giving blood at the Red Cross.)

Thanks to Isabelle Horowitz for much of this info on IOD.

¤  Iron Overload. Iron Disorders Institute website. Last accessed March 29, 2014. URL:
¤  Iron Overload Diseases Association, Inc (IOD) website. Last accessed March 29, 2014
¤  Hereditary Hemochromatosis (Iron Overload). website. Last accessed March 29, 2014.
¤  Iron Overload Diseases Association, Inc (IOD) website. Last accessed March 29, 2014
¤  Iron: The Double-Edged Sword. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine website. Last accessed March 29, 2014.

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