What is 'bronze diabetes'?

Becoming aware of what this newly labeled diabetes is and how if may affect you and your family is important.

There has recently been some good news surrounding the Type 2 diabetes epidemic. Some states are showing (among adults) signs of a plateau or leveling off of newly diagnosed cases. This may be due, in part, to better screenings and awareness, education and proactive behaviors of those diagnosed with prediabetes. 

However, there is still much more to learn about diabetes and our health! A diabetes condition called “bronze diabetes” is a relatively new term to many and becoming aware of what this newly labeled diabetes is and how it may affect you and your family is important. 

What is bronze diabetes?

Bronze diabetes gets its name from the brown hue of the skin that results in the accumulation of iron in the body. This form of diabetes is associated with an underlying liver disease known as hemochromatosis.

What is Hemochromatosis

The American Diabetes Association describes this underlying liver disease, “(a) single gene mutation causes extra iron to be absorbed from food in the intestine, and the body lacks an efficient means of excreting the excess iron it takes in. Over time, this iron accumulates in the tissues of the body, most notably the pancreas, and the liver. The extra iron builds up in the organs and damages them.”

There are two categories of hemochromatosis:

  • Primary – or genetic, caused by a genetic mutation.
  • Secondary – or ‘acquired’ from other illnesses or circumstances which may affect the way the body eliminates excess iron or causes the body to store iron.

There is generally a trio of signs that tend to affect people with hemochromatosis:

  • Irreversible liver damage (cirrhosis)
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • A bronze discoloration of the skin

Early detection of hemochromatosis can be difficult as it may mimic symptoms of other diseases. It is important to understand the link between hemochromatosis and diabetes mellitus.  A report from the CDC suggests as many as 75 percent of patients with hemochromatosis develop diabetes mellitus. 

Prevention and treatment of Hemochromatosis

Phlebotomy blood treatments used to treat hemochromatosis are encouraging. Once iron levels in the body are brought under and kept under control diabetes may be reversed. The phlebotomy treatment consists of two phases: an iron reduction phase and a long-term maintenance phase.

Prevention begins by playing an active role in your health, knowing your family history and discussing your risk of hemochromatosis with your healthcare team.

Maintenance: If you have hemochromatosis, you should have your serum ferritin level checked at least once a year. Doing so can help keep your iron level within the normal range and avoid the serious problems caused by too much iron.

Becoming a smart patient by educating yourself on these new diabetic conditions helps you take control of your health. Start a diabetes conversation with your healthcare team today! For more information on hemochromatosis visit The American Diabetes Association.

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