FERROPHILIA MULTIFORME (FM)
What follows is a brief description of a little known, uncommon malady with which I am personally afflicted.
Definition: A rare, abnormal affinity for irons which may take on many forms.
Etiology: The etiology of FM is largely unknown although occasional cases do show a hereditary component with a genetic predisposition. FM seems to have a lot of similarities with infectious diseases. In this case the infective agent is usually an iron or an afflicted individual.
Incidence: Generally, not a disease of young individuals, typically afflicting those in middle or later years. Incidence is higher among males than females.
Prognosis: Although not fatal, the condition is incurable and essentially untreatable. Once afflicted with FM the individual has the condition for the rest of their life. Afflicted individuals exhibit normal life spans, although anectodal reports suggest that afflicted individuals live happier and possibly longer lives. Further study is needed.
Characteristics: Incubation periods vary with individuals from days to even years between “infection” and manifestation. In many cases the condition initially manifests itself as an acute phase characterized by hot flashes, delirium, altered sense of reality, and an intense craving to acquire every iron in sight regardless of quality or rarity. In time the acute phase subsides and morphs into a chronic phase for the remainder of its duration. Periodic acute flare-ups are not unknown.
Behavioral changes are clearly evident and are the hallmark of the condition. The afflicted individuals exhibit iron-seeking behavior, frequenting antique shops, flea markets, estate sales and auctions. Some engage in cyber-stalking of irons on the internet on web sites such as e-bay. Hoarding behavior is a common feature. Seeking and acquiring irons leads to endorphin release in the cerebrum resulting in an increased sense of well-being, sometimes bordering on euphoria. Attending auctions often results in a temporary disconnect with reality, frequently causing empty wallets.
Afflicted individuals are poorly understood by the general public as evidenced by the common question: “you collect what?” (See book by the same title authored by an afflicted couple who have had the disease for many years.) In a desire for acceptance afflicted individuals seek out and fraternize with others who suffer from FM.
Treatment: As mentioned before, there is nothing available to treat the condition. Only palliative support exists. Management consists of periodic infusions of iron and fraternizing with other FM sufferers.
Although currently there are no 12-step programs available, support groups do exist. The largest of these is PITCA
. Afflicted individuals meet with others for support and encouragement. Spouses are strongly invited to attend meetings and are encouraged to develop acceptance, understanding and tolerance toward their afflicted mates.
Dr. Jack Horbal is a retired dentist and PITCA Past President for 2017-2018.