What is hemochromatosis?

Hemochromatosis is the buildup of too much iron in the body. Primary hemochromatosis, the focus of this article, is an inherited tendency to absorb too much iron in the gastrointestinal tract. The excess iron builds up in the body, especially in the liver, which causes the liver to swell and interferes with its function. Iron overload, sometimes referred to as secondary hemochromatosis, is caused by a separate disease, such as certain types of anemia or blood disorders, particularly if the person has had numerous blood transfusions.

Hemochromatosis is more common in men than in women and is most prevalent among Caucasians of western European descent. About one out of every 200 or 300 Americans has primary hemochromatosis, making it the most widespread hereditary disease in the United States. You are more likely to get hemochromatosis if someone in your family had it. Left untreated, hemochromatosis can lead to liver damage and scarring, and the iron overload can damage other organs as well, including the heart, joints, pancreas and brain (Source: PubMed).

Although symptoms usually appear between the ages of 30 and 50 in men, and over age 50 in women, signs of the disease can also appear in adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 30, and a neonatal type of the disease affects newborn infants. Hemochromatosis can rapidly become life threatening in newborns.

If you have a family history of hemochromatosis and are diagnosed with certain medical conditions, you should contact your health care provider right away to be assessed for hemochromatosis. These conditions include heart abnormalities, liver disease, arthritis, and pancreatic disorders, such as diabetes. If hemochromatosis is detected early, organ damage can usually be stopped and even reversed with aggressive treatment.

Heart abnormalities can be a symptom of hemochromatosis. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as sweating and severe difficulty breathing, or chest pain or pressure.

Seek prompt medical care if your skin looks gray, yellow or bronze; if you experience severe joint pain; or if your abdomen becomes swollen or distended. Also, seek prompt medical are if you are being treated for hemochromatosis but your symptoms persist, recur, or cause you concern.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of hemochromatosis?

Some people never experience symptoms of hemochromatosis itself. Instead, they show symptoms of a disease caused by their hemochromatosis, which can affect a wide variety of body systems. Most people with hemochromatosis have symptoms for 10 or more years before a diagnosis of hemochromatosis is made.

Symptoms of hemochromatosis

Because hemochromatosis itself is les... Read more about hemochromatosissymptoms

CAUSES

What causes hemochromatosis?

Hemochromatosis is a buildup of too much iron in the body. This is caused by an inherited tendency to absorb too much iron in the gastrointestinal tract. A defect in a gene known as HFE has been identified in people with hereditary hemochromatosis.

What are the risk factors for hemochromatosis?

Hemochromatosis is a fairly rare disorder, but several factors can increase ... Read more about hemochromatosiscauses

TREATMENTS

How is hemochromatosis treated?

The main treatment for hemochromatosis is to remove the body’s excess iron by having a certain amount of your blood drawn out, just as if you were making a blood donation (phlebotomy). The severity of your condition will determine how much is removed, but on average a pint of blood might be taken once or twice a week for anywhere from several months to a year, and sometimes longer. Blood tests ... Read more about hemochromatosistreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 23, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Digestive System


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