Information for Patients
Also called: Iron overload disease
Hemochromatosis is a disease in which too much iron builds up in your body. Your body needs iron but too much of it is toxic. If you have hemochromatosis, you absorb more iron than you need. Your body has no natural way to get rid of the extra iron. It stores it in body tissues, especially the liver, heart, and pancreas. The extra iron can damage your organs. Without treatment, it can cause your organs to fail.
There are two types of hemochromatosis. Primary hemochromatosis is an inherited disease. Secondary hemochromatosis is usually the result of something else, such as anemia, thalassemia, liver disease, or blood transfusions.
Many symptoms of hemochromatosis are similar to those of other diseases. Not everyone has symptoms. If you do, you may have joint pain, fatigue, general weakness, weight loss, and stomach pain.
Your doctor will diagnose hemochromatosis based on your medical and family histories, a physical exam, and the results from tests and procedures. Treatments include removing blood (and iron) from your body, medicines, and changes in your diet.
NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
- Ferritin blood test (Medical Encyclopedia)
- Hemochromatosis - NIH (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases)
- Hemochromatosis (Medical Encyclopedia)
- Serum iron test (Medical Encyclopedia)
Hereditary hemochromatosis Hereditary hemochromatosis is a disorder that causes the body to absorb too much iron from the diet. The excess iron is stored in the body's tissues and organs, particularly the skin, heart, liver, pancreas, and joints. Because humans cannot increase the excretion of iron, excess iron can overload and eventually damage tissues and organs. For this reason, hereditary hemochromatosis is also called an iron overload disorder.Early symptoms of hereditary hemochromatosis may include extreme tiredness (fatigue), joint pain, abdominal pain, weight loss, and loss of sex drive. As the condition worsens, affected individuals may develop arthritis, liver disease (cirrhosis) or liver cancer, diabetes, heart abnormalities, or skin discoloration. The appearance and severity of symptoms can be affected by environmental and lifestyle factors such as the amount of iron in the diet, alcohol use, and infections.There are four types of hereditary hemochromatosis, which are classified depending on the age of onset and other factors such as genetic cause and mode of inheritance.Type 1, the most common form of the disorder, and type 4 (also called ferroportin disease) begin in adulthood. Men with type 1 or type 4 hemochromatosis typically develop symptoms between the ages of 40 and 60, and women usually develop symptoms after menopause.Type 2 hemochromatosis is known as a juvenile-onset disorder because symptoms often begin in childhood. By age 20, iron accumulation causes decreased or absent secretion of sex hormones. Affected females usually begin menstruation normally but menses stop after a few years. Males may experience delayed puberty or symptoms related to a shortage of sex hormones. If type 2 hemochromatosis is untreated, potentially fatal heart disease becomes evident by age 30.The onset of type 3 hemochromatosis is usually intermediate between types 1 and 2 with symptoms generally beginning before age 30.